Two weeks shy of his 37th birthday, Kevin Garnett finds himself in the midst of maybe the most impressive rebounding stretch of his entire 18-year NBA career.
Try these numbers on for size: Not only does the Celtics big man lead the playoffs in rebounding (14.4 per game, nearly three better than closest competitor Reggie Evans), but Garnett is hauling in a staggering 40.3 percent of all available defensive rebounds when he's on the floor (also tops amongst qualifiers).
To put that in perspective, Evans -- the league's resident rebound magnet -- topped the NBA this season with a regular-season defensive rebound rate of 39 percent, and Houston's Omer Asik was the only other qualifier above 30 percent. Garnett grabbed 25.9 percent of all available defensive caroms, which put him in the league's top 20.
But in the past three games, Garnett has been utterly relentless on the glass and his totals are staggering: 17, 17, 18 in Games 3-5. Maybe not surprisingly, a Celtics team crippled by the second-chance points they've allowed the New York Knicks this season has won the past two games and roared back into this Eastern Conference first-round series.
New York still leads the best-of-seven matchup 3-2 as the teams shuffle up to Boston for Game 6 on Friday. Garnett's dominance on the glass may be the biggest reason why the Celtics' season is still alive.
Garnett's teammates just marvel at what he's doing. Informed of Garnett's recent rebounding totals, Avery Bradley -- he of a career defensive rebound percentage of 6.7 -- sat slack-jawed and struggling to put the numbers into perspective.
"That's amazing. He's an amazing player," said Bradley "You can't really say anything else. That's all you can say. Amazing, man."
It truly is. Just look at some of the other elite rebounders in NBA history at similar stages of their career. Wilt Chamberlain was out of the league before his 37th birthday, while Bill Russell was gone by the time he was 34. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 8.1 rebounds per game at age 37 during the 1984-85 playoffs, but his defensive rebound rate was a measly 13.2 percent, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Former Celtics center Robert Parish grabbed 9.2 rebounds per game at age 37 during the 1990-91 playoffs for Boston, but his defensive rebound rate was still nearly half of Garnett's (21.7) that postseason.
Every rebound in this series is a war. Garnett is engaged in hand-to-hand combat with fellow veterans Kenyon Martin and Tyson Chandler for each available carom. You can see the anguish on Garnett's face when Chandler manages to tip a rebound back out -- often leading to a Knicks 3-point attempt -- and Garnett has absorbed more elbows than you'd find in a typical box of pasta.
And yet he keeps coming back for a second helping.
"That's what Kevin does," said captain Paul Pierce. "He's a legend in this game. He's one of the greatest players to ever play the game. And you're seeing when the great ones get challenged, what they're able to do. That's what you're seeing in Kevin Garnett."
For his part, Garnett has been hilariously evasive on his rebounding prowess. Asked the secret of his rebounding spike after Wednesday's game, he offered, "I have no idea."
At the team's morning shootaround earlier in the day, he offered only slightly more, not willing to reveal his secrets.
"I don't know," said Garnett. "I haven't really thought about it, to be honest. A lot of rebounding is timing. Tyson and I, Kenyon and I, we're down there battling for the ball. Some of them are coming off of me or whatever. It's not one or two things that goes into it, nor would I like to share. But the things I have been doing are working for me and I'm going to stick with it."
Does Garnett enjoy battling down low?
"You don't have a choice, whether you like it or not," he said. "It's whether you adapt to it or not. And if you don't adapt, obviously you know what end you catch, or what end you end up on. And I don't want to be on that end."
It's been a quiet offensive series for Garnett, who is averaging 12.2 points while taking just 10 shots per game. The Celtics often make a point to note they need more from Garnett at that end of the floor this time of year, but he's been so ridiculously important on the glass that it's hard to ask for more.
"His rebounding and his presence have been amazing for us," said coach Doc Rivers.
Before this season, Garnett had grabbed 17-plus rebounds 14 times in his playoff career. Now he's done it three times in a row. He'll have to bounce back quickly, with only one day off before Game 6 on Friday, but you get the sense Garnett is feeding off this situation. As usual with these Celtics, with their backs against the wall, they've come out swinging. And rebounding.
During a postgame interview with Comcast SportsNet after Game 5, Garnett kept repeating, "We out here scrapping."
Scrapping and rebounding.
Statistical support for this story provided by NBA.com.