Wednesday, May 2, 2012
KG anchoring Celtics' clamp-down D
By Peter May ESPNBoston.com
Kevin Garnett finished fifth in voting for the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Award. That's just as well if you're a Boston Celtics fan looking ahead to Game 3 of the Atlanta Hawks series on Friday night.
If the Hawks don't have Josh Smith, the going will be that much tougher against Kevin Garnett and the Celtics.
KG doesn't like getting individual awards, and he really doesn't like getting them before games. It distracts from his normal regimen. He's only gotten two in his Hall of Fame career -- the Most Valuable Player Award in 2004 while with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2008, his first year in Boston.
The MVP award was presented to him by commissioner David Stern prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Sacramento Kings. Minnesota lost the game (at home) and KG was 6-of-21 from the field, had six turnovers and missed seven of eight shots in the second half of what turned out to be a close game.
The DPOY award was presented before Game 2 of the Atlanta series in the first round of the playoffs. Garnett called all his Celtics teammates to join him (memories of Mike Eruzione at Lake Placid in 1980) and then came out and bricked his first seven shots. The Celtics won the game by 19 points and KG rallied from his slow start to finish with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
So without all the fanfare, Garnett and the Celtics (including a returned and hopefully remorseful Rajon Rondo) can once again get back to the ongoing business of shutting down the Hawks when the game begins.
Paul Pierce received the majority of the props for his virtuoso performance in Game 2 -- and justifiably so. He was terrific. But you also have to give enormous credit to KG, Pierce, Avery Bradley and two unlikely sorts, Mickael Pietrus and -- am I actually writing this? -- Marquis Daniels. The small-ball quintet was on the floor for the final 10:22 of Game 2 when the Celtics overtook the Hawks and stifled them. The Hawks saw a five-point lead turn into a nine-point deficit. The final was 87-80.
Yup, there it is again. To paraphrase George Stephanopoulos, "It's the defense, stupid."
Here's what the Hawks did in the fourth quarter Tuesday night -- at home -- against the Rondo-less, Ray Allen-less Celtics. They shot 4-of-19 from the field and the fourth field goal, by Willie Green with 24.3 seconds left, was of absolutely no consequence. They had six turnovers -- or two more miscues than baskets. They went nearly four minutes without scoring to open the quarter and more than 4½ minutes before getting their first field goal. That basket ended a field goal drought of almost 7½ minutes.
The Celtics had three blocked shots in the quarter, two of them by Bradley. The Celtics guard has as many blocks in the series as Atlanta's rejector-in-chief, Josh Smith. Pietrus had a forgettable offensive night, but he was exemplary at the other end, relieving Pierce of the need to defend Joe Johnson -- and defending Johnson as well as anyone can. The rarely used Daniels, he of the 28 missed games (23 DNPs and five inactives), was similarly effective and another testament to Doc Rivers' ability to think (and coach) outside the box.
But when you're talking Celtics defense, it almost always starts with Garnett. He sets the tone. He calls out teammates. Since his arrival here in 2007, he has been the defensive conscience of the team. And through two games of this series, the defense has been quite effective. Atlanta is shooting 37.7 percent (in the playoffs, only Indiana is shooting worse) and is averaging 81.5 points a game.
Garnett was at his best on two key possessions in the fourth quarter. The first was swallowing up Smith and forcing a ridiculous running something or other, which nearly broke the backboard. The Celtics had a two-point lead at the time, 72-70. The second was vintage KG, blocking an Ivan Johnson attempt from down low with the Celtics leading by seven. It was the exclamation point of the quarter.
Eastern Conference Playoffs
Get all the news and commentary on the Celtics-Hawks matchup on ESPN.com's matchup page.
The Celtics' defense was one of the main reasons to like this team's chances, not only in this series but going forward. No team played better defense over the second half of the season and the Celtics ended up No. 1 overall in the two critical categories: defensive field-goal percentage and defensive 3-point field-goal percentage.
It's one of the reasons, maybe the reason, that almost everyone picked Boston to win this series, even though Atlanta finished with a better record and had the home-court advantage. All the Einsteins at ESPNBoston.com picked the Celtics.
It was hilarious to watch the ABC/ESPN roundtable on Sunday after the news broke that Derrick Rose was out for the playoffs. A Boston-Miami Eastern Conference final was now quite likely. The Celtics should be able to handle the Bulls, assuming Chicago is able to get by Philadelphia. No one mentioned the possibility of the Celtics losing to the Hawks. The gents never once mentioned Atlanta.
Well, the Celtics now have the home-court advantage. The TD Garden will be rocking on Friday night. We might even see Ray Allen on the court.
But we know we'll see Garnett and we can pretty much expect to see another night of excellent team defense. And because KG isn't getting another trophy for his case at home, he should be ready to go from the outset. Along with the possible absence of Smith, that is not something the Atlanta Hawks want to contemplate.