Garnett's intensity and legs are back
BOSTON -- By his own admission, Kevin Garnett's intensity returned Sunday.
And as one first-quarter sequence between Garnett and Yi Jianlian illustrated, that intensity was in high gear.
After toying with the Chinese 7-footer in the first quarter both inside and outside, Garnett demonstrably shoved Yi's arms aside and began bodying him up during a dead ball. The replacement refs quickly separated them, but as soon as they cleared away, Garnett immediately went back at Yi and bodied him up some more, raising his hands high in the air while pushing him from behind with his body -- the sort of flashpoint moment that would have earned Garnett a technical foul from a more seasoned official.
"I don't know him, he don't know me. It wasn't nothing personal," Garnett explained, comparing the incident to an episode he had with Luis Scola of Houston in Boston's first preseason game Wednesday.
After answering, Garnett proceeded to ask aloud whether his response was satisfactory (which it was, and wasn't). But an earlier answer from Garnett provided better insight into what he felt he did better Sunday in his third exhibition game of the preseason, a 100-93 victory over the New Jersey Nets.
"Sprint," Garnett said. "I thought today I got up and down, I tried to put the pressure on their defense. Aggressive, as far as being aggressive, this is probably the most aggressive I've been since I've come back and played. My reaction time was a lot better, a lot faster."
His jumper was smoother, too.
Garnett shot 6-for-8, with all but one of his attempts coming from at least 19 feet away (he even attempted a 3-pointer). Playing just over 21 minutes, Garnett finished with 12 points, six rebounds and two steals, knocking down his first five shots while Yi attempted to defend him.
Garnett's first bucket came courtesy of a lucky high bounce off the back rim on a 21-footer, but his second was a vintage low-post head-fake move that got Yi off his feet and allowed Garnett to duck under for a layup. His third shot was a 22-footer, and the mini-altercation with Yi was followed at the other end by an isolation play with Yi defending Garnett, with Garnett burying a long turnaround jumper over the 7-footer's outstretched arm.
He moved to 5-for-5 when he sank another jumper over Yi midway through the second quarter, his streak of perfection ending soon after when a corner jumper hit the side of the backboard.
"Afternoon games are not my forte, but for the most part, yeah, sprinting, my gait is getting better and better, I'm getting stronger, I can see it, feel it," Garnett said. "My confidence is growing every time I step on the floor, and that includes practice."
With two weeks now elapsed since organized practices began, Garnett has persevered through shin splints and played through a kick in the calf from New York's Jared Jeffries that left him shaking his right leg -- the same one that was operated on over the summer to remove bone spurs from his knee.
In Garnett's three-game body of work, he's shot 55 percent (12-for-22) with 19 rebounds, five steals, two turnovers and zero blocks in a total of 56 minutes.
"I think each game he's gotten more and more comfortable," coach Doc Rivers said. "I don't think he's explosive yet at times, there's a couple plays where lobs would be dunked, instead he's catching it and bringing it down, but that'll come next.
"One game in the next couple I'm going to extend his minutes, then after that we're pretty good with him," Rivers said, adding that Garnett (along with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rasheed Wallace will be held out of one of the Celtics' upcoming back-to-back games, either Tuesday night at New Jersey or Wednesday night in Hartford, Conn., against Toronto.
Just a hunch, but there's probably a 7-footer from China -- the same guy who got a taste of Garnett's increased intensity Sunday -- who probably wouldn't mind at all if that sit-out game comes Tuesday instead of Wednesday.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.