Kevin Garnett acknowledges the crowd. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
With the clock winding down to the eight-minute mark of the second quarter and the Boston Celtics already holding an eight-point lead over the Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Garnett cut across the paint to the right mid-post, received an entry pass from Leandro Barbosa, and went to work on Earl Clark. The result was one we've seen countless times in the past: K.G. turning, fading and splashing.
The points were not only his fifth and sixth of the evening, but also gave him 25,000 in his 18-year NBA career, making him just the 16th player in NBA history — and, we note so as not to draw the ire of Curtis Harris, the 20th player in the combined histories of the NBA and ABA — to reach that plateau. The other 15: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Robertson, Dominique Wilkins, John Havlicek, Alex English, Reggie Miller and Jerry West. If we include the ABA days, the list includes Julius Erving, Dan Issel, George Gervin and Rick Barry. Not bad company.
That alone is clearly an amazing enough feat, but Garnett's achievement is even greater when you consider the breadth of his on-court accomplishments — as Celtics radio play-by-play man Sean Grande noted on Thursday, K.G. is now the only player in NBA history with at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 blocks and 1,500 steals. So, y'know, that's pretty good.
Garnett finished with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in just 23 minutes, as Boston got big contributions from seemingly its the roster (eight players with at least eight points, six in double figures, led by Paul Pierce's 24 points, seven boards and six dimes) en route to a 116-95 beatdown of their longtime rivals. The win was the Celtics' sixth straight without injured point guard Rajon Rondo, whose recent injury might not be quite as devastating as initially feared — a "partial" tear of his right anterior cruciate ligament, rather than a full tear — which has already started to stoke speculation that he could return to the court sooner than expected. In the meantime, the Celtics continue rolling, thanks in large part to the continued excellent play of their Hall of Fame big man.
After the jump, hear more from Garnett and watch several of his other major milestone buckets along the way to 25,000.
Throughout his career, Garnett's always been the rare team-first superstar more interested in collective goals than individual accomplishments; as ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg reminds, when Garnett passed Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing for 16th all time on the NBA scoring leaderboard last month, he downplayed the milestone by saying, "I guess when you've been in the league as long as I've been in it you want to accomplish some things. Nothing more, nothing special in it."
He struck a similar note after Thursday's win, telling reporters that — despite entering the game just six points shy of 25,000 — he wasn't aware of how close he was or that he'd hit the mark with the jumper over Clark.
“First priority was the Lakers,” Garnett said, according to NESN.com's Ben Watanabe. “I didn’t even notice until, I think, somebody mentioned something in passing [Wednesday] night and it kind of went in one ear and out the other. It means a lot, obviously, to be in a Celtic uniform.”
Still, a man who clearly takes as much pride in his craft — the footwork, the film study, the hours spent honing and perfecting his skills on both ends of the floor — must give himself some credit. After the final buzzer sounded on a game that had ended in a spiritual sense before the close of the third quarter, Garnett spoke with TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager about the win and about hitting 25,000. Sager — long a favorite target of Garnett for his garish dress — asked K.G. if the celebration of his offensive talents felt in any way odd, considering much more attention during his six-year Celtics career has been paid to his impact on the defensive end.
"Well, for 12 years, I actually had to play offense," Garnett replied with a slight smile.
Given how deeply Garnett's embedded himself into Celtics history and lore, it's easier than it should be to forget just how dominant a scoring force he was during those dozen years with the Minnesota Timberwolves, during which he amassed more than 19,000 of his 25,000 career points, averaged at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and four assists per game for nine straight seasons, and earned four top-five finishes in Most Valuable Player voting, including recognition as the league's 2003-04 MVP. Since coming to the Celtics to team with then-assistant/defensive coordinator Tom Thibodeau to form the backbone of a D that's consistently ranked at the top of the league and made a habit of choking out opposing offenses, Garnett's defense has earned rampant praise, including a nod as the league's 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year, but sometimes, as Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the game, that respect's come at the expense of his offensive reputation.
“You know what’s funny? He’s a great offensive player,” Rivers said, according to Watanabe. “But he’s so good defensively that you rarely hear about Kevin being a great offensive player. That just tells you how good he is overall. He’s a great passer, he’s a great rebounder, he’s a great offensive player — I don’t know what else there is.”
Garnett's role definition certainly changed after coming to Boston to join with elite wing scoring talents Pierce and Ray Allen, as well as a burgeoning facilitator maestro in Rondo; no longer would he have to be the primary offensive option every trip down the floor, as he so often was in Minnesota. But his offensive gifts — especially his ability to hit midrange and long 2-point jump shots at an elite rate, critical in providing some semblance of floor spacing for a long less-than-stellar Boston offense — didn't just disappear. Even at age 35 last postseason, he was putting up 19 and 10 on 50 percent shooting, and even at age 36 this season, he can still go out and get you 27 (like he did against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday) and pop that fadeaway in your eye. The athleticism might not quite as explosive as it was 10 years ago, but the shake, turn and fire's still pretty effective. Just ask Earl Clark.
After discussing the win and his individual achievement, Garnett also took a moment — apparently unsolicited — to address recent rumors that Celtics general manager Danny Ainge might look to move the remaining two years and $24.4 million ($18.4 million guaranteed) on his contract in the interest of "blowing up" a team that had lost six straight before Rondo's injury and seemed like it'd be in dire straits without its floor general. Things are looking a bit sunnier these days, of course, and Garnett didn't much appreciate hearing and reading about how he could be headed to the Los Angeles Clippers or the Denver Nuggets, according to WEEI.com's Mike Petraglia:
"On a last note, I just want to say I love my situation here," said Garnett, who has a full no-trade clause and can veto any deal the Celtics may encounter heading toward the Feb. 21 trade deadline. "I don't know what y'all's sources are or whoever is making up these bulls**t articles about me getting traded to Denver and all these other places. I bleed green and I continue to do that. If it's up to me, I'm going to retire a Celtic. I just want y'all to know that. Keep it real."
It's not the first time Garnett's lashed out at reporters, Boston-area or otherwise, for writing stuff that runs contrary to the narrative he and other Celtics would like to see spin out of the Boston locker room, and that's fine. Of course players don't like trade rumors, even if they accept (as an experienced veteran like Garnett surely does) that all GMs have scores of conversations, serious or otherwise, in the interest of exploring every possible avenue of potentially improving their teams, and of course Garnett's within his rights to break back about it.
Hollering at those whose job it is to chase down those rumors and discuss them with rabid fan bases forever in search of news, updates, information and speculation about their favorite teams doesn't exactly seem like the best way to handle things, but I don't think any writer who saw traffic off articles or posts about a K.G. move is taking it too personally; heck, Garnett quotes like these make for better copy, anyway. In the end, Boston's got new life, Garnett's got a reaffirmed statement of purpose, Ainge has one of the hottest teams in the league, Celtics fans got a reminder of why they love their 7-foot madman, and us writers have a new story to cover. All in the game, right?
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