Commentary

C's issues: Garnett's crunch-time reluctance and Rivers' bench management

Originally Published: May 3, 2008
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com

Kevin GarnettBrian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesWhen it comes to important fourth quarters, questions remain about Kevin Garnett's offense.

ATLANTA -- So let's get something straight from the start: The Boston Celtics will probably win. This is about as lopsided as a series can get and still be 3-3: The Celtics have outscored the Atlanta Hawks by 50 points over six games, and if they follow up with a 22-point win in Game 7 -- their average margin during the first three home games -- they'd finish the series with the same dominant plus-10.1 victory margin they had during the regular season.

Of course, there are no guarantees at this point. A hamstring pull or a bad call can tilt the game in a hurry. Especially when one team is playing with house money and the other has such enormous pressure.

But a bigger question may be what to make of the Celtics even if they do survive. While this series isn't nearly as big a taint on their record as some might imagine -- presuming they win Sunday -- the three defeats in Atlanta did bring up two major concerns that have lingered in Boston all season: Kevin Garnett's inability to produce in fourth quarters, and coach Doc Rivers' seeming inability to choose a lineup and stick with it.

Garnett has been heavily criticized throughout his career for disappearing in fourth quarters of close games. While at times that's been a bum rap, it was palpable down the stretch of Game 6.

He finished with four points and four rebounds in the quarter, but in this case it wasn't the "what" as much as the "how." Garnett's two turnovers came when he passed up opportunities to shoot. The second was the most glaring, when he declined a wide-open 5-footer in the lane to pass it to a teammate who was well under the basket and might have landed out of bounds had the ball reached its target; Mike Bibby intercepted his pass.

Garnett also seemed reluctant to challenge Josh Smith, even when Smith had five fouls. Most notably, he passed up a chance to go one-on-one in the post against Smith with 1:42 left and Boston down four, and instead deferred to James Posey, who launched a contested 30-footer that missed. Boston eventually scored on that trip after getting four offensive boards, but it illustrated a reluctance to take over late in the game -- something he's been criticized for his whole career.

Woodson's Sub Way

Hawks coach Mike Woodson again invoked the two-foul boogeyman in Game 6 against the Celtics, at one point sitting four of his five starters at the end of the first half because they each had two fouls.

This time he survived, because the Hawks' subs played as well as they have all year during the second quarter.

-- John Hollinger

Worse yet, the Celtics seemed to know this. They ran every important play for Ray Allen, because Paul Pierce had fouled out and Garnett wasn't stepping up, and the result was a ton of defensive attention and a 1-for-8 quarter by Allen.

Yes, it's just one quarter of one game, but if Garnett shrinks again against the Clevelands and Detroits of the world, folks are gonna keep talking.

Meanwhile, there's also the question of Rivers' roster management. The book on Rivers has been that he's great when he only has seven guys who can play but mind-boggling when he has 12, because he'll rotate them in and out with no rhyme or reason.

Friday night was a good example. He used 12 players by the one-minute mark of the second quarter -- what is this, Little League? -- and once again seemed to show remarkably little trust in Rajon Rondo down the stretch. While veteran Sam Cassell certainly has the track record of hitting big shots, he's been brutally bad in all three games in Atlanta and Rivers has stuck with him in fourth quarters.

Up front, Rivers can't decide whether Glen Davis or P.J. Brown should be his fourth big man … except in Game 3, when the massively productive Leon Powe suddenly found himself on the outs. One suspects that ultimately he's getting less out of all three with this approach.

Speaking of Rondo, Rivers also made a truly odd move at the very end of Game 6. With 10 seconds left, he subbed Eddie House for Rondo to get more offense on the floor; then after a quick basket by Kevin Garnett, he subbed Rondo back in for defense.

Here's the weird part: Once the Celtics fouled Bibby, Rivers never put House back in for Rondo. He didn't have a timeout, but when Bibby missed the first three throw, it was clear a 3-pointer was what Boston needed, and that's House's specialty. Instead, Rondo had the ball at the end for a desperation triple that missed.

Like I said, it's all probably water under the bridge as far as this series goes, because the odds are strong that Boston will win Sunday. But if you're looking ahead to the conference finals or further, the doubts about Garnett's fourth-quarter skills and Rivers' roster management can only be stronger now.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.