Tuesday, April 30, 2013 Updated: May 1, 2:05 PM ET
KG's toughest foe is Father Time
By Jackie MacMullan ESPNBoston.com
WALTHAM, Mass. -- When is it time?
The KG odometer is at 52,754 career minutes and counting. He will be 37 years old on May 19 and has logged 17 NBA seasons. Keep in mind one Kevin Garnett season is like dog years (multiply it by seven) compared to many other NBA veterans, because there is no coasting, no time off, no "saving my body," no "protecting my family's investment," just a lot of sweating and banging and swearing and hurting.
"He plays so hard," said Boston Celtics teammate Jason Terry, who is in his first season alongside KG. "And it's never about him. Never. He beats himself up after games. He says, 'I missed that screen. I didn't get you open.'
"I never would have thought he was like that, playing against him all those years.
"I have no idea what his plans are, but I do know this: If this is his last go-around, we've got to give him our all, like he has given us. I don't want it to end. I'm cherishing every moment."
"People have no idea what he goes through," Doc Rivers said of Kevin Garnett. "He plays because he loves it. ... A lot of guys wouldn't play anymore."
When Boston bangs heads with the New York Knicks in Game 5 of their playoff series at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, the Celtics may need to manufacture jump shots, defensive rebounds and transition baskets to keep their season afloat, but there will be no need to manufacture urgency.
The enormous uncertainty circling this roster should take care of that.
At the center of it all is Garnett, who has two years remaining on a three-year, $34 million deal, along with a no-trade clause. KG has said if Paul Pierce leaves he doesn't want to stick around, and it's highly likely the Celtics will shop both veterans this summer. Boston can buy out Pierce's deal for $5 million or use its amnesty tag on him.
Pierce and KG may have already played their final game on the parquet together, and Game 5 could be their last collaboration together in Celtics uniforms.
"I love KG, but it's over," Charles Barkley said Monday. "He's got to be a reserve, a 20-minute-a-night guy. The starting days are over.
"Father Time is undefeated, and there's nothing you can do about it. You are out there getting beat by guys who are younger.
"It's tough to watch, especially when it happens to great players."
Although Celtics coach Doc Rivers lauded Garnett as "a rebound machine" for the 17 boards he corralled in a Game 4 win, there were a number of cringe-worthy moments when KG had position for a defensive board but didn't exhibit the lift to prevent Tyson Chandler from coming over him and tipping the ball to a Knicks teammate.
His teammate and friend Chris Wilcox admitted, "Those are killing him. Having younger guys come over your back like that. But he's got to remember that's what he did to guys when he first came into the league."
Garnett has been battling a hip pointer and painful bone spurs in his ankle and foot that appear to have affected his mobility and ability to rotate defensively, yet his diminished hops has been a continuing trend. He refused to discuss his future at Tuesday's practice, saying, "I haven't thought about post, after -- I'm focusing on what it's going to take to get the next game."
The list is extensive. The Celtics turn the ball over too much, struggle to score in their half-court sets and are getting pounded on the glass. Their second-half lapses are beyond mind-boggling.
KG is a career 19.3 PPG playoff scorer, but he's averaging just 11.3 points (on .439 shooting) and 2.3 free throws a game against an aggressive New York defense that is trapping him each time he gets the ball. Boston desperately needs his offense, but when Garnett does shoot, it's most often from the foul line extended.
"That's how you know [it's over]," Barkley said. "He takes nothing but jump shots. It's been going on the last couple of years. When guys lose it, they become jump shooters. They can't go to the basket because they don't want their shot to get blocked."
Here's another clue the end is drawing near: when you spend as many minutes preparing for practice as you do actually participating. Teammates say KG hates to sit out, so he undergoes an elaborate routine of stretching, receiving treatment, getting massages and doing strength work to prepare his body for the workouts.
"People have no idea what he goes through," Rivers said. "I was watching him in there now doing all the stretching. He plays because he loves it, and it's will. A lot of guys wouldn't play anymore."
Accepting athletic mortality has proved to be a daunting proposition. The number of those who played beyond their shelf life is too lengthy to list, but it includes former Celtics Hall of Famer Kevin McHale, KG's first mentor in the pros when they were both with the Timberwolves.
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McHale planned to retire from the Celtics in 1992, in part because of his chronically problematic foot, but over the summer the pain subsided and his body recovered. His two young sons, Mikey and Joey, were finally old enough to be Celtics ball boys and begged their dad to continue.
He did, for one more regrettable season.
McHale recounted his struggles to ESPNBoston.com last year: "I'm matching up with players who are nothing special, and they don't even see me. They're scoring over me like I'm not even there.
"After one particularly rough night, I remember, I went home and I cried. I cried over the loss of that part of me that had been with me since I was 13 years old."
Barkley called it quits in 2000 after he ruptured a quadriceps tendon in his left knee. At the time, he was in his 16th season and averaging 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds a game for the Houston Rockets, but he is the first to admit he should have left the game sooner.
"I played two years too long," he said. "In the back of your mind, you know you can't go on, but what happens is you talk yourself into playing. You say, 'Let me have another good year, then I'll retire.' But then you don't have that good year.
"You tell yourself, 'I'm going to get in great shape.' You feel great going into the season, because you are working out against air. But then you get 30 games in and you're saying, 'I really need that life boat,' and it's nowhere around."
KG's long-term life boat could be a change of teams with a diminished role, but in the immediate future, he's locked in on trying to extend Boston's trying season.
Someone else will have to do the primary scoring. He gets caught defensively at times, a shocking, foreign, infuriating reality. He can no longer dominate, but he will lower his head and approach it the only way he knows how: sweating and banging and swearing and hurting.