- Ric Bucher, NBA Reporter, ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer
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HIDALGO, Texas -- So much of what Kevin Garnett did Wednesday night was vintage KG. He got the biggest cheer even though the Boston Celtics were technically the visiting team and then knocked down the game's first basket, a silky nothing-but-net jumper from the top of the key. He did his personal-space invading stunt on Luis Scola, his shot-block-after-the-whistle number on Kyle Lowry and his helping-hand routine for any teammate who hit the floor.
So was it the same ol' same ol' KG that took the floor in the Celtics' 96-90 preseason loss to the Houston Rockets, his first appearance since surgery to remove a bone spur behind his right knee?
Not exactly. The production was decent -- six points, five rebounds and a nifty over-the-shoulder dish to Ray Allen in 13 minutes -- but he went 0-for-4 after making his first two shots and didn't exactly have the rip-snorting energy and presence that fueled the Celtics' championship run two years ago.
"I thought he played great in the first half and looked stiff in the second half," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I know his gait. Four minutes into the second half, he was exhausted."
Nor, perhaps, should that be a surprise. Garnett, after all, had not played against another NBA team since March 25 because of his knee issues. But for those who consider his health the linchpin to whether the Celtics can win another championship, the only conclusions to be taken from this border-town exhibition: Garnett certainly will be able to contribute this season and, whew, it sure is a comfort they picked up Rasheed Wallace to help lighten whatever that contribution will be.
"For the most part, I felt great out there," Garnett said after a lengthy postgame treatment that involved putting his entire right leg in an intermittent compression unit, which resembles a slimmed-down solid black golf bag. "Didn't feel any pain. There wasn't any hesitance on my part."
Whether it was the black tape wrapped beneath his knee and up along the outside of his calf or simply getting comfortable moving against live competition, he didn't appear to have the same lift and back-pedaled gingerly. On a first-quarter alley-oop from Rajon Rondo, he caught the ball with one hand and didn't have quite enough elevation, banging the ball on the rim right before Brian Cook fouled him. Later, on his patented turnaround jumper in the mid-post area over Chuck Hayes, he hit front rim, again without the usual spring.
The encouraging part: At one point, Scola tried to post him up and Garnett, with minimal help, harassed him into a turnover. For if there's an element the Celtics sorely missed last season, it was Garnett's defensive energy.
If the Celtics are worried about Garnett's condition, though, it didn't show. Paul Pierce, seeing him in the compression unit, joked, "They got his leg on life support. When I was hurt, they told me to go home, take some Robitussin and put some ice on it."
More than anything, Garnett seemed to cherish simply being able to play again.
"It felt good to compete, be in the gym, have the jersey on," he said. "You never take things for granted."
For the Celtics, for now, that should include Garnett.
Ric Bucher joined ESPN in January 1999 as a San Francisco-based senior writer covering professional basketball for ESPN The Magazine, and as an NBA reporter for "SportsCenter." Bucher also contributes to ESPN.com.
Kevin Garnett looked sharp but a little winded in his first game since a knee injury knocked him out of action last season