Despite kick, KG's comeback on track
BOSTON -- For the briefest of moments, there was a slight Kevin Garnett scare Friday night. He had just been fouled by Jared Jeffries while battling for low-post position, and he stood near the foul line raising his right leg and shaking it.
"He kicked me in the calf; that didn't help things," Garnett said after playing nearly 22 minutes and scoring 10 points with eight rebounds Friday night in a 96-82 preseason victory over the New York Knicks. "But a little hot pack and some ice, and I was able to finish the game."
"Did I look like I was hurt?" Garnett asked of Paul Pierce, who sat alongside him at the postgame interview podium.
"You looked like you got kicked in the calf," Pierce replied.
"When you get kicked in the calf, that's what you look like," Garnett responded.
Garnett still looked perhaps a half-step slow and had a barely discernable limp from time to time, but for the most part he looked better than OK. He was able to backpedal and slide-step, he held his position when he was bodied from behind in the low post, and he was especially quick and adept at passing out of double-teams to open shooters at the 3-point line.
His catch-and-shoot jumper was solid, his defense against Al Harrington (whom he described as "like a bull") was strong, his energy was where it always is -- off the charts -- and the reception he received from the hometown fans was loud and long when he was introduced at exactly 7:38 p.m. to an arena that was half-empty, although a majority of those who were there stood on their feet to welcome him back.
"The reaction in my leg and all that, I thought I did a decent job with that," Garnett said. "As opposed to years when I played [before], there wasn't nothing that much out of the ordinary. There wasn't nothing to throw the caution flag up, or nothing like that. I got kicked, but it's a contact sport, and I thought I played through it real well."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said beforehand that he wanted to gradually increase Garnett's minutes after using him for just 14 minutes two nights earlier in Hidalgo, Texas, in a road game against Houston.
Rivers said that Garnett was experiencing shin splints and other assorted aches, but that his surgically repaired knee was doing fine.
Garnett saw the bulk of his playing time in the first half, playing from the opening tip until the 4:12 mark of the first quarter (when he exited with no points on 0-for-1 shooting with one rebound), then returning with 7:17 remaining in the second quarter and finishing out the first half, scoring six points on a pair of jumpers and two free throws after he was kicked by Jeffries.
He exited for good after playing the first 6:34 of the third quarter, stopping before he checked out to show off one of his signature moves -- leaping above the basket to swat away a shot attempt that was released after a whistle.
"I'm not where I want to be, but I don't have any worries whenever I play. I'm putting in my time, I'm doing my work, doing everything they're asking me to do, getting stronger. It's just about timing and duration at this point," Garnett said. "I don't think anybody in the league is in 48-minute shape right now. I don't know what my minutes are going to be, but in the minutes Doc is playing me I think I'm playing very energetic, I think I'm, like always, all out. Nothing unusual."
What was unusual was seeing Rasheed Wallace wearing his new colors, and he kept the Celtics comfortably ahead throughout the second half by making three 3-pointers, grabbing 12 rebounds and scoring 13 points in nearly 22 minutes. Wallace played briefly alongside Garnett after he subbed in for Kendrick Perkins midway through the first quarter, and the lineup that included Wallace at center and Brian Scalabrine at power forward was particularly effective, the two combining to make two-thirds of the Celtics' nine 3s.
But the focus afterward -- as it will be throughout the preseason and into the first part of the regular season, until Garnett can show that his knee is up to taking the pounding of an 82-game schedule -- was on the Big Ticket's right knee, the one he wore a sleek black brace on as he played his first home game in more than six months.
"In the first quarter I thought I was pretty active energy-wise. I'm eager, I'm very eager, and at this point for me the challenge is to be under control, not to be too hyper out there," Garnett said. "The game is so fast. In Houston, and back in training camp, I was playing a lot of concept basketball because it was going so fast. So from a timing standpoint, that's the only thing I'm kind of worried about. You can do things in drills to simulate it, but in a game it's totally different. So timing-wise I'm trying to get that down, on pick-and-rolls, talking, making sure my chemistry with Perk, Paul and Rondo is intact.
"Other than that, I'm not worried about my leg. My thing is just being healthy throughout the year, and being healthy when the playoffs get here. So I have small goals I'm trying to reach, and patience is a hard thing to acquire, but I'm trying to get it the best way I can," Garnett said.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.