That happened just last year when an injured Kevin Garnett(notes) had his own seat at courtside. He watched helplessly in street clothes as the Celtics lost the next two games to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Now Boston holds a 3-2 lead in that same round against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Garnett’s right knee is healthy again and he’s playing some of his best basketball of the season. His offense has picked up and on Tuesday night he directed a defense that shut down LeBron James(notes) in a 120-88 rout in Cleveland.
“It’s a different ballgame when you’ve got one of your star players in there,” Davis said in a soft voice after a brief practice Wednesday. “He can carry a team with his actions.”
That’s what James usually does.
But one more loss Thursday night in Boston and the team with the NBA’s best record won’t even reach the conference final. Orlando already has made it by sweeping Atlanta in four games.
The league’s MVP had one of his worst playoff games in Game 5, finishing with 15 points on 3-for-14 shooting after being blanked from the field in the first half.
“We focused enough on him getting to the basket. I mean, my gosh, for (the first) three games he basically had a highway to the basket and our thought was, we’ve got to get bodies in front of him,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s going to give us a great shot (Thursday). We’re going to have to take it, withstand it and still win the game.”
The Celtics Big Three of Garnett, Paul Pierce(notes) and Ray Allen(notes) have been depicted at times as too old to carry the team to its second title in three years. They totaled 37 points in a 29-point loss in Game 3. But in Game 5, they combined for 64 in a 32-point victory.
“When we play well, it’s because of their experience,” Rivers said with a smile. “When we (stink) it’s because they’re too old. That’s basically how it’s been throughout and that, in some ways, may be true at times. But I would always lean on the experience side.”
That’s where Garnett comes in.
The 15-year veteran averaged 14.3 points during the regular season. But he’s been remarkably consistent against Cleveland, scoring 18, 18, 19, 18, and 18 points in the five games for an average of 18.2. He also leads the team with 7.2 rebounds per game.
The Celtics want to feed him in the post where the 6-foot-11 Garnett can work on his 6-9 defender.
“I think we’ve got a great matchup with him and Antawn Jamison(notes), so that’s why he’s been more aggressive,” Boston center Kendrick Perkins(notes) said. “He knows we’re trying to go to him. We told him to be aggressive and we want him taking 20 shots a game.”
Garnett took 21 shots in a Game 2 win. But he had 25 combined in the last two games. Other players were the offensive stars in those games—Rajon Rondo(notes) with 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists in Game 4 and Paul Pierce with 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in Game 5 after struggling the previous three games.
“We did a good job on Rondo in the first half, but he came out and played well in the second half” on Tuesday, Jamison said. “You knew The Big Three were going to get it going at some point. Not only them, but their whole team pretty much did whatever they wanted to do.”
Still, the possibility of returning to Cleveland concerns Davis.
“People don’t realize how much we have on our back,” he said. “If we lose this game here at home, we’ve got to go back to Cleveland, even though we know we can win there. But, at the same time, that’s their house.”
Cleveland won Game 3 in Boston 124-95 but lost there two days later 97-87.
“It’s disappointing that we put ourselves in this situation where we have to win,” Jamison said. “If we want to be called champions, we have to do what champions do and that’s win on the road.”
Orlando did that last year in Game 7 of the Eastern semifinals when it won in Boston 101-82.
They’re less likely to lose another now that they have Garnett.
“You’ve got your defensive leader on the floor and your verbal leader,” Rivers said. “It’s big for us.”