LOS ANGELES – Kevin Garnett’s(notes) favorite movie is the renowned gangster hit, “Scarface.” He knows every scene by heart, just like he can now recite every detail of another Hollywood-bred massacre:
“NBA Finals, Game 1: Gasol’s Revenge.”
When the Celtics watched the game together as a team twice on Saturday, Garnett led the analysis, quickly interjecting before coach Doc Rivers could refer to a play in question. During the two days leading into Sunday’s Game 2, Garnett has been questioned for his lackluster play in the Finals’ opener. No one, however, has criticized him more than himself.
“He's beating himself up, but that's cool,” Rivers said. “That's who he is. That's what makes him great.”
If the Celtics hope to win their second title in three years, they’ll need more from Garnett. But while K.G. saw on video what he needs to do to improve, transferring that to the floor figures to be trickier.
Slowed for much of the season by his recovery from right knee surgery, Garnett seemed to regain his swagger during the first two rounds of the playoffs. He struggled, however, in the Eastern Conference finals against the Orlando Magic, averaging 10.3 points, to again raise questions about his health.
And while Garnett overwhelmed Gasol in the 2008 Finals, both physically and mentally, that was far from the case on Thursday. Gasol totaled 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. K.G. scored a respectable 16 points, but was limited to just four rebounds.
“It’s not a one-on-one situation between me and Pau,” Garnett said. “It’s Lakers versus Celtics. To make this team better, I got to be a lot more aggressive and I will.”
Still, no matchup figures to be more watched in Game 2 than that of Garnett and Gasol. Gasol unintentionally fanned the flames of the rivalry when he said Garnett has “lost some of his explosiveness” and is more of a “jumper shooter” now because of his knee injury.
“Before he had a really, really quick first step and was getting to the lane and he was more aggressive then,” Gasol said.
Gasol has since chided the media for overplaying his comments as an insult, stressing that Garnett remains “a terrific player, a terrific competitor, and he's going to bring everything he's got.” No matter. Garnett and the Celtics are using Gasol’s words as motivation.
“I have no comments for his comments,” Garnett said. “Who is he?”
When asked if Garnett had lost a step, Rivers said: “Well, that's what Gasol said, that he can't do what he used to do. I don't think Kobe [Bryant] believes that. I don't think Kevin believes that. He's not injured, I can tell you that. He just didn't have a good game. He's as healthy as he's been all year. And I think he plans on trying to prove that to a lot of people tomorrow.”
Still, when pressed on the strength of Garnett’s knee, Rivers’ response nearly echoed that of Gasol. “Listen, he's not who he was two years ago,” Rivers said of Garnett. “I'm not, either. Neither is Ray [Allen], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo – none of us are. But in a lot of ways through this playoff stretch he's been as good. His numbers are good. We've just got to keep him going.”
The Celtics believe the best way to get Garnett going is to give him more offensive touches. Garnett took 16 shots in Game 1, more than any of the Celtics, but he shot only two free throws. Rivers, however, believes the Celtics will perform better if Garnett gets the ball more not only to shoot, but also to distribute. Center Kendrick Perkins(notes) even suggested Garnett take at least 20 shots.
“We do have to do a better job of getting him the ball,” Rivers said. “I thought we failed in that category on our own. We didn't get him the ball in his spots enough. He had a lot of touches outside the paint, at the elbows, and we have to mix it up better.”
When told of Perkins’ plea for him to shoot more, Garnett said: “I am. But I got to be in control. I got to be aggressive. I got to quit thinking and just react.”
Garnett also knows the film doesn’t lie. As hard as it is for him to swallow, he knows Gasol outplayed him in Game 1. The Celtics now hope K.G.’s work ethic and inner fire will lift him through the rest of the series.
“If you want to be better and you want to accomplish anything in this league, you have to continue to push yourself,” Garnett said. “You have to be motivated. Nothing motivates anybody more than coming short of a goal.”