- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- The stat line certainly impressed Rajon Rondo, but when asked about Kevin Garnett's monster performance Friday night in Boston's 104-92 triumph over the Chicago Bulls, the Celtics point guard pointed to a play that didn't show up in a box score highlighted by Garnett's 20-point, 17-rebound outburst.
With Boston boasting a 16-point cushion with 7:34 to play in the fourth quarter, Garnett was whistled for goaltending as he viciously swatted away a Joakim Noah layup attempt, the ball landing somewhere out by the 3-point stripe as if spiked by someone in a volleyball uniform.
The fact that it cost Boston two points didn't matter to Rondo. Watching Garnett elevate as explosively as he did was the latest sign of how good his body is feeling after being slowed the past 18 months by a balky right knee.
"Kevin looked great tonight. I think the blocked shot he had, he was jumping really well," Rondo said. "He's always had a knack for the ball, but right now he's explosive. He's jumping over people to get rebounds
"That's only a good thing for us, a bad thing for the rest of the teams."
While Garnett tries desperately to avoid talking about his health, he can't help but admit to feeling uninhibited for the first time since initially injuring his right knee in February 2009, ultimately missing the playoffs that year, then being slowed for much of last season.
His improved health has showed in games like Friday's. Due in part to Glen Davis' early foul trouble, Garnett played 19 minutes, 32 seconds in the first half, registering a double-double before the intermission with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
In addition to the 20 points and 17 rebounds he finished with, Garnett filled up his stat line with six assists, two steals and a block. And then there was that one goaltending call when he looked particularly spry.
"I'm not even paying attention to what I'm doing out there," Garnett said. "I feel well. I'm out here giving everything I've got. I'm not paying attention to how high I'm jumping, or how I'm moving laterally. I just know I'm not in so much pain, and some of the defensive coverages, I can read them now, and I can get to my spots early. Nothing less than that. There's not some unwritten formula or something that I've got. I'm just out there hooping."
It didn't hurt Friday that he was hooping with a chip on his shoulder. In a season in which Celtics coach Doc Rivers suggested he's had a "list" of opponents he's seeking atonement for injury-diminished play last season, Garnett also had the motivation of Noah's verbal outbursts after Boston's victory last month. That included an ESPN radio appearance in which Noah called Garnett "a very mean guy" and added that he was "ugly, too."
Garnett tried but did little to dismiss the notion that he had increased motivation from Noah's comments.
"No, let me tell you something about people, man," Garnett said. "Everybody has an opinion and, obviously, he had one. I'm not entertaining nor addressing nobodies. I'm not even entertaining them. I'm focused on basketball -- winning and trying to make this team better. Other than that, I'm not on anything."
Asked twice if he considered Noah a "nobody" (he asked for the question to be repeated the first time), Garnett barked "Next question," and gave a quick wink, triggering laughter from reporters.
And even if he didn't say it in so many words, Shaquille O'Neal hammered it home.
"It's not that he's up for [Friday's game]; it's that these young cats have no respect," O'Neal said. "So Kevin just has to teach them."
Garnett is coming to grips with his own basketball mortality. He hinted Friday that he knows this could be his final season should a lockout wipe out the 2011-12 campaign. He said that has allowed him to actually lower his guard a bit this year, as has the arrival of O'Neal, and he's enjoying the process of trying to win a title more than in any previous season.
Part of that pleasure comes from how well he's playing. Garnett entered Friday's game averaging 15.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 51.8 percent from the field. He doesn't want sympathy for what he's been through, and he'd rather run roughshod through those that took advantage of his limited abilities last season.
"I'm healthy, and the doctors know my history," Garnett said. "I don't like to really share it with you guys but the people in this locker room, they understand what I've been dealing with. I don't like the sob story; everybody deals with it. This league is filled up with guys who are beat up. I'm no different from that."
He's less beat up this year, which means we're seeing vintage Kevin Garnett.
"I saw the old KG poster I had on the wall," Davis said. "He was ballin' out there today."
Added captain Paul Pierce: "You can just see it in the way he's moving, his balance, his timing. He's getting better and better. The good thing I liked tonight: He was very aggressive, wasn't hesitating. When his shots were there, he was taking them inside and outside, and making other guys better by finding them with the passes.
"I liked the way Kevin really asserted himself on both ends of the ball. He really stepped up to the challenge and guarded Noah and Carlos Boozer -- knowing that that's pretty much the meat of their front line. And he just tried to go out there and outplay everybody. That was the vintage Kevin that we know. He showed a lot of flashes of his old self. He's just getting better every week, and we're seeing that."
Rondo did say that Garnett doesn't mind venting about his ailments to those in the locker room.
"It's funny, we were both in [the locker room] complaining about how we felt before the game and we both played pretty good tonight," said Rondo, who registered a double-double with 12 points and 19 assists. "So I was telling him we should complain before every game."
And when the first thing you notice about a box score is a goaltending, it's safe to say you've got very little to complain about.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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