The idea that Kevin Garnett is somehow not "clutch" is incorrect, tired and lazy. That's without even getting into the fact that the idea of a "closer" in the NBA sense is an absolute anachronism. No, Kevin Garnett does not have a litany of game-winners alongside the ranks of Michael Jordan or anyone else in NBA playoff history that you would dare look up (check Kobe Bryant's late-game stats in the postseason, friends), because Jordan is just about alone in this gold standard. And Garnett is certainly not alone in the broader sense when it comes to big men, who rarely see the rock late in close contests.
That didn't stop former NBA All-Star and Garnett's former Minnesota teammate Wally Szczerbiak from chiming in, apparently regretfully, on Twitter during Wednesday night's Game 2 between Garnett's Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. In the midst of a playoff run that has seen Garnett absolutely carry his team despite playing his 50,000th NBA minute (regular and postseason combined) this spring, Wally chose to rip on KG's apparent late-game failings from behind his computer in 140 characters or less. In the worst tweet, caught by ESPN's John Hollinger but since-deleted by Wally, he apparently spies something Garnett's DNA that we've been unable to locate in KG nor any other person who has ever shown off their X's and Y's:
It's true that Garnett missed his one orthodox look in the overtime of Wednesday's Game 2, along with a desperate 3-pointer from the corner as the Celtics attempted to make up a seven-point deficit in the game's final minute. This was, of course, following a fourth quarter that saw Garnett (again, playing into the 50,000s in total career minutes) manage 10 points and three rebounds as he played nearly 42 out of a total 48 minutes in regulation. Could he have stuck his chest out, and demanded the ball more? I'd hope not, considering that Boston's 12 points in five overtime minutes far outpace the typical (and awful) offensive output they've averaged this year.
And this is, as you might have noticed over the last month, in the midst of a postseason that has seen Garnett perhaps play the best brand of all-around basketball by anyone not named "LeBron James."
At age 36, Garnett is averaging 19.4 points and 10.5 rebounds for the Celtics, making 49 percent of his shots while playing at undersized center, along with a combined 2.6 blocks/steals and his typical all-over defense that is never noted in the typical box score. He's been brilliant, carrying this Celtics team to a third round that just a month and a half ago nobody thought was possible for a thin and aging Celtics bunch.
Perhaps mindful of this, Szczerbiak later attempted to qualify his thoughts in tweets he actually didn't delete.
And, if you need any other insight into Szczerbiak's scouting acumen, check this tweet out:
This is in reference to LeBron's long fadeaway miss at the end of regulation in Game 2. A shot that, as a Cavalier, he made probably 30 percent of the time both at the buzzer (if half that, actually) or in typical play. Wally has him at nine out of 10.
Again, we're not arguing the pointless argument that any player is better in the final seconds in the modern NBA than any other, but the idea of anyone (LeBron, Kobe, and even Michael Jordan) making any more than two out of 10 contested, fadeaway 22-footers falling to their right? Ugh.
We'd slough that off as more Twitter silliness, but this was coming from an NBA All-Star who has both played with Garnett in Minnesota and James in Cleveland, but also the Boston Celtics for a spell from 2005 to 2007, with his massive contract helping land the C's Ray Allen in a draft-day trade. A player with, perhaps, an axe to grind.
With all this nonsense in place, we can understand where Szczerbiak's ire comes from. And why Garnett can't stand him, as well.
KG, from the outset of his career, was an anomaly that few knew what to do with. The first preps-to-pro player drafted into the NBA in nearly 20 years, he not only worked that angle to much influence but was also the first to take advantage of the NBA's short-sighted three-year rookie contract rule, one that allowed youngsters to hold leverage following a player's second season (in Garnett's case, his first All-Star season) in order to take in a huge contract in an NBA that didn't yet have maximum contract limits. Garnett could make whatever the Timberwolves decided to pay him, and did — to the tune of six years and over $120 million in 1997.
Szczerbiak, the son of a former pro and European league scout and executive, decided to stay the big man on campus at Miami of Ohio, and come out for the draft in 1999, only to be picked up by KG's Timberwolves. The two met up that summer while taking part in that year's Tournament of the Americas, which Team USA had to play because the lockout decimated its pro-based roster during the 1998 World Championships.
Tellingly, but not weirdly, on several occasions Szczerbiak reminded reporters that despite Garnett's NBA veteran status, Wally was just 10 months younger than his new teammate. Which was of absolutely no interest or impact to anyone besides Wally Szczerbiak.
Shockingly, Garnett (never the easiest person to deal with) never got on well with Wally. And while Garnett got to rule the roost both on the Timberwolves and in strutting around Minnesota, Szczerbiak had to deal with accusations relayed by the press about stealing passes (in Flip Saunders' mid-range based offense) from teammates and overall selfish play, accusations that Garnett never did much to dissuade. When Garnett's Timberwolves had their finest hour, in 2003-04, Szczerbiak was at best the team's fifth-best player to these eyes, as injuries limited him to just 28 games and consistently step-slow defense.
And in an MVP year, Garnett's Timberwolves fell against the Los Angeles Lakers in the third round of the playoffs, with most NBA fans forgetting that the team's second-best player (Sam Cassell, in the middle of a career year) was hurt, with Fred Hoiberg and even Garnett forced to bring the ball over half-court after Darrick Martin was found to be a poor replacement for Cassell's brilliance.
A fitful relationship, to be sure, with plenty of blame to go around on both sides.
But for Szczerbiak to pull this? Cherry-picking after Boston and Garnett's most heartbreaking loss of the season? Falling back on the tired "clutch" arguments that most of us have long since yawned our way away from?
It seems like something Wally Szczerbiak, the guy most of us were introduced to as a professional all the way back in 1999, would do. Sadly.
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