LOS ANGELES -- Lakers big man Pau Gasol said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett is not the player he used to be, but Boston coach Doc Rivers stressed on Friday that there is nothing physically wrong with KG.
The Lakers held Garnett to 16 points and only four rebounds in a 102-89 win in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.
"On Kevin's part, he's also lost some explosiveness," said Gasol, who had 23 points and 14 rebounds. "He's more of a jump shooter now you could say, comes off the lane. Before he had a really, really quick first step and was getting to the lane and he was more aggressive then. Time passes and we all suffer it one way or another, but he's still a terrific player, a terrific competitor, and he's going to bring everything he's got. You can count on that."
Rivers countered Gasol with strong assurances that Garnett's problem Thursday was mental rather than physical.
"I just thought, honestly, he got so hyped up about the game he almost took himself out," Rivers said. "He was trying to slow himself down. He didn't have a great game. But no, he's fine healthwise and all that. It's funny -- just with our team -- whenever we don't play well, it always comes down to either health or age, and it's usually sometimes we just don't play well. I thought last night was more of that.
"I just thought he struggled. He had one of those nights. We all have them. We're just not used to seeing him have them unless there's something wrong. But he's fine, I can guarantee you that."
At 34 years old and with 15 hard-fought years behind him at this point in his NBA career, Garnett averaged only 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 29.9 minutes per game this season, the lowest totals since his rookie season.
He missed 25 games last season because of an injury to his right knee that required offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from the back of the joint. The 7-footer, who prefers to refer to himself as 6-foot-12, also suffered a hyperextended right knee in December of this season, causing him to miss 10 games in late December through mid January.
But Garnett's effervescent energy and internal motor that manifests itself through constant chatter and fits of unparalleled intensity have masked his decline.
The surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer was asked after Celtics practice if he took exception to what Gasol said.
"Not at all," Garnett said. "I have no comments for his comments."
Boston point guard Rajon Rondo's face broke into a sly grin when told about Gasol's comment, perhaps knowing that the Spaniard might have just awoken the Celtics' sleeping giant.
"I just can't wait -- I didn't know he said that, but I'll be excited to see how it goes in Game 2," Rondo said. "You know, Kevin is fine. It's just one game. We'll see in Game 2. We'll see in Game 2."
Coincidentally, other members of the Celtics made remarks similar to Gasol's statement about Garnett on Friday, but criticism when it comes from the family is considered constructive.
"Obviously he's had to battle with adjustment with an injury," Paul Pierce said about Garnett. "Certain things that he's done before he's probably not doing now or he's getting back to doing those things."
Still, Pierce sees good things in Garnett.
"He had a good run in practice [Wednesday]," Pierce said. "He was getting into a nice rhythm, offensive flow. You can have good practices and go out there and play bad games. You can have a bad practice and play good games. At the end of the day, you still have to put it on the court regardless."
Asked about a sequence in which KG missed consecutive layups, failing to get up to dunk the ball, Pierce said: "It happens. I've done that throughout the course of my 12 years. We all miss layups, we all miss shots, you've just got to keep playing."
Pressed on Garnett, Rivers said KG had the best practice of any Celtic on Wednesday, but he said he seemed to lose some of that edge trying to calm himself down on Thursday.
"I thought he tried to talk himself down, and he did too good of a job of it," Rivers said. "He needs to play with that edge, and I really thought early on he was going too fast and trying to slow himself down. He probably did it a little bit too much. But he'll be fine."
Kendrick Perkins also dismissed the injury talk and suggested Boston needed to get back to what worked so well against Cleveland in the conference semifinals.
"I think KG's been great these whole playoffs," Perkins said. "In the Miami series he was huge; against Cleveland he was even better. I thought in the Orlando series he did a good job of guarding Rashard Lewis. In this series, we've got to get back to demanding the ball on the blocks. We've got to get back to KG taking 20 shots per game, like he did in the Cleveland series. We've got to find a way to post KG a little more."
Meanwhile, Gasol's signature play of the fourth was a transition dunk coming off a Ron Artest blocked shot that ignited the Lakers fastbreak and put them up by 15.
Garnett averaged 18.2 points and 13 rebounds in the 2008 Finals, cementing his already stellar career with a ring. Gasol averaged just 14.7 points and 10.2 rebounds, earning a label as being soft that he has been trying to shed ever since, helping his reputation by matching Dwight Howard's physicality in the process of winning the championship against the Orlando Magic in 2009.
"It's not a one-on-one situation between me and Pau," Garnett said about the series heading into Sunday's Game 2. "It's just Lakers vs. Celtics. In order to make this team better, I have to be a lot more aggressive."