Commentary

Kevin Garnett back to his old self

Updated: November 18, 2010, 3:44 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Kevin Garnett always finds a way to fire himself up for games, even if it means manufacturing something about an opponent, just to get himself revved up to typical KG intensity.

Garnett didn't need to invent anything Wednesday. He would admit that the memories from this past April's lopsided loss to the Washington Wizards -- one in which fans showered the Celtics with boos -- remained fresh in his mind seven months later.

In that Wizards win, Andray Blatche registered 31 points and 11 rebounds, running circles around Garnett while producing what might have been his finest effort of the 2009-10 season. Garnett hasn't forgotten it.

[+] EnlargeKevin Garnett
AP Photo/Stephan Savoia Kevin Garnett (18 points, 9-of-11 shooting) seems to have his old explosiveness back in his second season since having knee surgery.

As Rivers noted, "Players -- they have memories."

Garnett responded Wednesday by connecting on nine of 11 shots for 18 points and grabbing seven rebounds over 23 minutes as the Celtics atoned with a 114-83 thrashing. Garnett also limited Blatche to 10 points and three rebounds.

"This team gave us problems last year, and we haven't forgotten that," Garnett said. "I haven't. Paul [Pierce] and I got here and could hear [former Celtic-turned-Wizards assistant coach] Sam Cassell [boasting] about how young they were and how they are going to come at us, but this team gave us problems last year. We made note of it."

Garnett, who underwent knee surgery following the 2008-09 campaign and seemed to be feeling the effects at times last season, doesn't like to talk about how he's feeling physically. When a reporter asked Pierce, who was seated next to Garnett at the duo's postgame news conference, about the veteran forward's health, Garnett scoffed a bit.

Pierce didn't bite, but it's not hard to tell this is a different Garnett. The explosion is back, as evidenced by the number of lobs he's catching and slamming down. Garnett was clearly hobbled last season, including in that game against Washington, and he made a point Wednesday of showing Blatche and the Wizards what he's capable of now.

That included running the floor to fuel the Celtics as they turned the game into a laugher in the second quarter. There was the 34-year-old Garnett outracing players a decade younger for a pair of fast-break layups during a 12-0 burst that put the Celtics out front 53-38 with little more than two minutes to play in the first half.

If Blatche was trying to make a name for himself last season, Garnett reminded him of the pecking order this time around.

"To be honest with you, my mentality is to play each person in front of me the same," Garnett said. "I'm not trying to be your buddy; I'm not trying to be your friend. I can care less about what kind of name you're trying to make off of me. That's what it is. It's competition.

"If you're not out here trying to defeat me, I'm figuring, 'Why are you out here?' I'm understanding that. I was young once, when I played Karl Malone and some of the older guys, I was … just as excited to play against them, so I anticipate these young guys to be just like that against, not just me, but [Shaquille O'Neal], Paul, Ray [Allen]. Same thing, it's what it is."

"I think [Garnett] has a checklist -- a whatever list -- he wants to be the best and he doesn't want the guy he's playing against to play well," Rivers said. "That's who he is; he's built this way."

Garnett's intensity is unrivaled and well-documented. It goes without saying that he's wired a little differently than most. To Rivers, that's not a bad thing. Before Wednesday's game, he said even the addition of Shaq, a bit of a hero figure and a calming presence to the locker room, could not tame Garnett.

"Someone asked me the other day if Shaq's personality has been helpful to Kevin, so he's not as intense," Rivers said. "I said, 'That human being has never been invented.' He's just an intense human being. He sometimes manufactures things to get upset at, so that he can get upset at a player or the other team. It's a good quality, really, he's competitive."

Rivers admitted Garnett might not stop to smell the roses, at least not while on the court, but that's what has made him a Hall of Fame player.

"Guys like Kevin, what makes them great is that they don't" savor the moment, Rivers said. "They can't. They don't let themselves.

"Patrick Ewing is the best example I can come up with. He was so into the game. But it's also what made him great. And if fans had a choice, I think they'd rather have him be great than acknowledge them."

Garnett certainly seems to be enjoying this season. He smiled and shook his head at the circus-like atmosphere that enveloped training camp and seems to genuinely enjoy this collection of players, particularly the addition of O'Neal.

But on the court, he remains fixated on two things: dominating his opponent and winning games. Not even the sight of Gino, the Celtics' video screen dancer during lopsided wins, can fully snap him from his trance, as Garnett seems almost programmed to raise his arm at the mere sight of the Garden's favorite "American Bandstand" hoofer.

That's fine by the Celtics. They don't want an older, gentler Garnett. They want the one with a checklist who is hell-bent on crossing off names until this team gets the NBA title that evaded it last season.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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