- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHILADELPHIA -- As though the NBA needed just one more reminder that this isn't the Kevin Garnett of last season, the Boston Celtics drew up a final play Thursday involving the 15-year veteran that it wouldn't have even considered a season ago when Garnett was still hobbled in the aftermath of knee surgery.
No, lobs were out of the question last season. So many times they failed to be executed that Rajon Rondo rarely even considered tossing them. This season, with a rejuvenated -- and healthy -- Garnett, the lob has practically become as common as Ray Allen 3-pointers or Paul Pierce mid-range jumpers.
So it was with almost a smug assuredness that, with the game in the balance, Celtics coach Doc Rivers sketched out a play the team had worked on for much of the past two weeks, featuring a lob to the rim for Garnett. A play in which Allen and Pierce, Boston's two most common late-game weapons, were essentially decoys, stretching the court to open space for Garnett to run freely to the basket.
With renewed confidence in himself and his body, Garnett caught a lob from Rondo and banked in the winning shot with 1.4 seconds to play in Boston's 102-101 triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.
"His body is back," Pierce said of Garnett. "Last year, when he was hurt, he didn't have the same mentality. That kind of happens. I'm the same way -- when you can't do things that you know you can do, it's frustrating. Now he's completely healthy and you can see it in his attitude off the court and on the court. It's amazing.
"A lot of people wrote him off last year, but he's proving everybody wrong."
Big efforts this season are nothing new for Garnett and he's thrived this season, particularly against younger opponents that took advantage of him last season. None of the baby-faced 76ers were on KG's hit list Thursday, but they still incurred his wrath, a national TV audience getting a glimpse at what Shaquille O'Neal often refers to as early "2000 KG" -- as in, the type of Garnett that earned the league's Most Valuable Player award in 2004.
The way Rondo recounted it Thursday, the 76ers didn't have much of a chance of stopping Boston's final play with the personnel the Celtics put on the floor. In fact, only Boston could have stopped itself.
Which had happened the last time the team tried to run the play at the start of the season. The timing was off, the play broke down, and Boston came away empty. Heck, during practice recently, Garnett botched the play so many times, it should have left Rivers a little uneasy about drawing it up with little more than six seconds to play.
But he did.
"We worked on that last week and the whole timing of it was off," Rivers said. "We tried to run it earlier in the year and we had bad timing. It's just funny how things work out. It was a low clock, the ball was in our best player's hand, we have shooters on the floor. The whole sell was to Paul -- he sets the fake pick, then Kevin [sets a real one]. It worked and it was good that it worked.
"We can do [the lob] now. Last year, Kevin would have missed the lob. Or we wouldn't have thrown the lob," Rivers said.
Now the lob is the first option on a play in which Rondo knows Garnett will get an open look if the defense doesn't scramble to help immediately. Even then they're running the risk of leaving a shooter open.
"Kevin stepped up, we got the switch, and there's no way you can help with Nate [Robinson], Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen] to the side," Rondo said. "You get off those shooters, and I can throw it to one of those guys."
But Rondo never even considered going to someone else. As soon as Garnett began rolling to the basket with 6-foot-4 Jrue Holiday forced to switch and chase, Rondo delivered a lob to Garnett's right shoulder that he caught and banked home.
"Everything slows down," Garnett said of the final play. "I'm sort of unconscious for a minute. Then all of a sudden, the shot goes through, and you're able to react off it. But all I care about is the win. I could care less about the things that come with it. I care less about who did what. It doesn't matter if it's Ray Allen, Paul or Nate-Rob [making the shot]. It doesn't matter."
In fact, Garnett preferred to single out an 11-foot jumper that Glen Davis hit a few moments before the winner, keeping Boston out front of Philadelphia in a seesaw final minute.
Heck, Garnett might not have even drew up the play for himself given how many times it failed in nonessential situations.
"I've messed that play up so many times in practice, that it's only right that the basketball gods gave it to me tonight," Garnett said.
The basketball gods are shining down on Garnett after he endured struggles last season. And Shaquille O'Neal likes what he sees from his frontcourt brethren. Maybe the rest of the NBA will now understand how hampered Garnett was.
"Some guys don't get the benefit of the doubt," O'Neal said. "I'm one of them -- that's cool. [Garnett is] one. All the bad games he had last year, it wasn't because he was outplayed. He had a leg injury that he never spoke about. He had a bum leg; now he looks fresh. He's looking like 2000 KG to me."
And no one ever hesitated to throw 2000 KG a lob.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
2hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann