Kevin Garnett: No rhythm in Game 1
The man who most personifies the Celtics' heart and soul couldn't get in step
LOS ANGELES -- It was a missed chip shot with the score 91-78 and 5:34 left in the game that told the story. He wasn't himself. This wasn't him. The miss wasn't a choke. He just never had control of the ball.
And there's the story: He never had control. To know Kevin Garnett as a ball player is to know that in situations such as an NBA Finals, he -- more than anyone on the Celtics' squad -- is the one who will seize control. Of the game. Of the entire series.
While other players may leave their fingerprints on the series, we could be assured that KG was going to have his DNA all over it. But after a this-was-so-not-KG performance in Game 1, the question lingers: Will the man who is responsible for the Celtics' blood flow be himself before the series is over?
"It's like he turned into Charles Smith," said my editor as he watched KG miss bunnies and other easy shots he normally makes.
It got worse as the game went on.
"I'm looking for KG's face on the side of a milk carton," an NBA staffer said after the game.
Then this text from one of my boys: "Did Suge Knight come see KG before the game? He just didn't seem right. Even with them losing, he personally, just didn't look right."
The missed shots were part of the story, but they weren't the problem. The problem was the four rebounds (about half of his per-game average) and the fact his matchup, Pau Gasol, almost made KG look like he made Pau look in the Finals two years ago. Gasol's 23 points, 14 rebounds (eight offensive) and three blocked shots are numbers you expect to get from Garnett from the jump-off coming into the series.
These aren't the NBA Finals of 2008, but Garnett was supposed to at least make Gasol feel like they are.
The fact he didn't has people talking. And what comes after talking? Concern.
"We had no rhythm. We didn't control the tempo of the game at all. [We] didn't handle their guards off the dribble. We played too fast."
Of all of the things Celtics coach Doc Rivers said last night after the game, the comment about having no rhythm stands out the most.
It defines KG's night, not just the team's.
And although, to a man, every Celtic with the exception of maybe Paul Pierce can say he wasn't himself in Game 1 (their perimeter and transition defense were the worst they've been so far in these playoffs), KG not seeming to be KG is the one that stands out.
He is still the end-all-be-all for this Boston team. Like the Gatorade he drinks (and sells), he's the heart, soul and hustle that defines the Celtics. And after Game 1, something seems to be missing.
Bruce Bowen made mention of it on "SportsCenter."
"Where is that pounding of the chest that Kevin Garnett is always displaying?" Bowen asked.
Like I said, after the talk comes the concern.
As the Celtics spoke briefly to the media after the game, KG exited the locker room solo. Speaking to no one as he walked out the door. No podium appearance. Head down, but not bowed; looking at the floor, but looking forward.
The backpack he carried looked heavy as he walked toward the team bus. Not as heavy, though, as what had to be weighing on his mind. The beginning of his search for self.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.