- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- It's the age-old battle of professor versus student when Celtics center Kevin Garnett goes up against the Kevin McHale-coached Houston Rockets on Friday night at TD Garden. And Garnett smiled when he noted before the game that McHale was probably inside the visitors' locker room giving his team a potential game plan to slow Garnett down.
McHale, then the Timberwolves' general manager, drafted Garnett with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 draft, and nurtured the prep-to-pros player through his early NBA development.
"Kevin hasn't been my coach for a long time, but he's taught me a lot, so I see the similarities and I see some of the things that I remember or that's refreshing to my mind when I'm watching his teams play," said Garnett. "At the disadvantage, he's taught me everything, so he's probably telling [his players] everything that I know. I've obtained some different things over the years, so other than competition, it's always good to see people you've worked with before still in the game. It's a part of the game. I think Kevin's one of the best teachers that I've ever been around. I think he has a lot to give to the game and always has. He loves basketball, so any time you have someone who loves basketball that much, it's good that they're still around."
McHale was likewise nostalgic about the reunion. While the relationship frayed a bit after McHale dealt Garnett to Boston during the summer of 2007, the two shared an emotional embrace after a meeting earlier this season in Houston.
"We spent a lot of time in the gym together," said McHale. "Great kid, great work ethic; turned himself into a fantastic player for years and years and years. His energy level, what he’s been able to accomplish still in the NBA, it’s not so much his age, it’s the minutes he’s played. Look at the amount of minutes he’s played, it’s just phenomenal. And I’m happy for him. But not tonight.
"We worked on stuff. But he had such a unique skill set. We worked on fadeaways, worked on some post stuff. Especially when teams were more physical, he really learned how to post and get his spot. We worked a lot on positioning. With him, he had such a different skill set, that turnaround fadeaway, and that became kinda his go-to move. But he was such a good player from the elbow, such a good player from all over, that just putting him in the low post, that really was a disservice to KG. He was a great high-post passer, elbow passer. He passed out of the post. I’ve said this before, he’s one of the most unique players because he’s going to get 25,000 points before it’s over with and he’s a pass-first player. Which is amazing. Most pass-first players score 8,000 points. He’s going to have numbers that shoot-first guys don’t get. That just goes to show how talented -- he’s been a first-pass, he’d much rather just make the play whatever it is than shoot the ball. That just goes to show how gifted he is."
McHale joked that he certainly didn't get that pass-first nature from him.
"I told him pass was a bad word," quipped McHale. "It was a four-letter word."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who played against McHale and coached Garnett, joked about how dissimilar they were on the floor.
"They are the exact opposite. Other than that, they are both great players," said Rivers. "It’s funny, our Kevin kills you with intensity; that Kevin, we laugh about it now, some of the stuff he said on the floor, he joked around half the time and ended up with 30 points and 20 rebounds or whatever. We were laughing, he would always ask me on the first free throw: ‘When are you trapping me? Because I know you are.’ And he would say, ‘I just want to know so I can shoot it quicker when I have to shoot. I’m going to shoot it, I just want to know when.’ He was a fun-loving, great player. Still, I think him and [Hakeem] Olajuwon, I don’t know a third, as far as footwork, those two guys were as good as we ever see."