- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Even Kevin Garnett admits he can seem robotic on the basketball court, a win-at-all-costs mercenary with little care for anyone in opposing colors. But he's suggested, on occasion, that there's a heart beneath that seemingly tin No. 5 Boston Celtics jersey, telling reporters last week, "I know I've got a bar code over the back of my neck, but I am human."
So Garnett couldn't help but be stung Wednesday when pundits attacked his on-court judgment after Detroit's Charlie Villanueva said via Twitter that Garnett coldly called him a "cancer patient" amid trash talk during Boston's victory over the Pistons on Tuesday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Garnett didn't even offer his side of the story -- he issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon suggesting his words had been misunderstood by Villanueva -- before many of the icy on-court actions from his 16-year career were dragged into the national spotlight.
All of which left Celtics coach Doc Rivers concerned about his player's mental mindset entering Wednesday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
"I know Kevin well, obviously, and I was telling my coaches before the game, this could be a tough night because he's such an emotional player that when he has an emotional day, it usually affects his play," said Rivers.
Sure enough, Garnett labored through the first 45 minutes of Boston's 105-102 overtime win over the Bucks, missing nine of his first 12 shots from the floor. But in the final three minutes of regulation, he produced a pair of old-fashioned three-point plays, including an emphatic one-handed jam over Andrew Bogut in which tempers flared as Garnett unleashed what seemed like a day's worth of pent-up emotion.
Garnett and Bogut were tagged with double technicals (just as Garnett and Villanueva were the night before) as a scuffle ensued. But Garnett reeled himself in, walking away after Bogut delivered a forearm shove to his chest.
"I'm a passionate player, man, and with all these rules, I'm trying my best to get out of the situations," Garnett said, referring to the NBA's increased focus on technical fouls. "I'm definitely not trying to invite them.
"The game is passionate and I've played with a lot of energy for the 15, going on 16 years that I've played this way. If you like my style of play, that's what you've grown to love about me. I leave it out there 100 percent on the court.
"I'm a competitive human being. I hit the floor and I have no excuses for my mindset there. I'm trying to give my team an edge, do it in the right manner, but it is a contact sport, too.
"Control is a mental thing. I've got it and I'm doing my best to adjust to these rules. I'll get better at it. I had a long talk with Doc about some things on the plane [Tuesday] night, some things I know I can do, so I'm not even worried about it."
And with that, Garnett was gone from the interview podium, answering only one question on his emotional day, which was now in the rearview mirror and had been cloaked somewhat by teammate Paul Pierce's reaching the 20,000-point plateau.
But also gone was a day in which his coach came out in staunch support of him in light of the criticism of his character, even questioning why anyone -- especially Garnett's accuser -- would make public any comments made in the heat of battle.
The off-the-court drama likely taxed Garnett as much as playing back-to-back games did, but he persevered, in a machine-like fashion.
"I was really concerned about his energy; I thought he was exhausted," said Rivers. "During one stretch, I had to take him out when we were making a run. When he starts moving, you know by his body rhythm, when it's time to get him off the floor. He used up some energy [Wednesday] that he probably didn't want to use."
What Garnett said on the floor Tuesday in Detroit might remain in question. You can choose to believe his side of the story, or that of Villanueva. At the end of the day, Garnett is paid $18.8 million to produce victories and his win-at-all-costs mentality sometimes takes the form many others aren't willing to approach.
He's made himself one of the great players in NBA history by displaying an unparalleled intensity.
Heck, poor Von Wafer nearly lost a limb Wednesday night because of Garnett's intensity. As Garnett came storming off the court after one of his three-point plays, spewing the familiar curse words that he admits flow freely in the heat of battle, Wafer attempted a little side-bump that Garnett seemed oblivious to as he rushed directly through the sea of hands extended in congratulations.
Beneath that steel frame is a heart. It endured some pain Wednesday, but Garnett refused to let it break him on the court.
He may be human, but there is that bar code on the back of his neck.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
2dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann