|KG stands tall during the Hawks series -- averaging 18.7 points and just over 10 boards. (Getty Images)|
BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett doesn't generally need added motivation. With a work ethic and intensity that has reached near folklore among those in the NBA, Boston's 35-year-old veteran understands this could well be the swan song. Not just when it comes to the Big Three's final hurrah together, but also the final chapter of a Hall of Fame 17-year career.
But Larry Drew and his Atlanta Hawks can give their owner, Michael Gearon Jr., an assist for Boston ending the series on Thursday night in six games.
"Thank you to the owner for giving me some extra gas tonight," Garnett said following a 28-point, 14-rebound performance in the 83-80 victory. "My only advice the next time he opens his mouth is that he actually knows what he's talking about. X's and O's versus checkbooks and bottom lines."
You see, Gearon Jr., while speaking at the W.E.B. Du Bois Society, called Garnett "the dirtiest guy in the league."
"We're not dirty," Garnett said in response after dispatching the Hawks. "We're aggressive."
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K.G. is wrong. On Thursday night, he was dirty. In fact, he was downright filthy.
With Ray Allen completely ineffective while battling an ankle injury and the third member of the Big Three, Paul Pierce, also struggling through a knee injury, it was Garnett who picked up the slack and dominated. He made jumpers, putbacks, dominated the younger and more athletic Hawks on the glass -- and also blocked a handful of shots on the defensive end.
"Kevin obviously carried the load for us tonight," Pierce said. "That's why he is who he is."
Garnett made certain there would be no seventh game in Atlanta this weekend with his mammoth effort that culminated with a picturesque turnaround over the 26-year-old Josh Smith with the shock clock winding down that gave the Celtics a 80-79 lead with 30 seconds left.
The Big Three have survived -- and advanced.
There were decisions that needed to be made in the midst of this lockout-shortened campaign. C's boss Danny Ainge was faced with whether to give this core group one more go-ahead or break them up and begin the rebuilding process. Thus far, it appears as though Ainge made the right call.
The Atlanta Hawks went down in six, which wasn't all that unexpected considering how well the Celtics performed in the second half of the season. However, Boston was supposed to be one-and-done with Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls too much for the C's to handle in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But Rose went down early in the series with Philly with a season-ending knee injury -- and now Doc Rivers and the Aging Ones have a chance to advance to the NBA's version of the Final Four.
"I am a little surprised," Rivers said of Philadelphia advancing past the Bulls. "Chicago had been there, but that injury -- and the way it happened in front of the team -- was deflating mentally."
The good news is that the Celtics will have the homecourt advantage against the eighth-seeded Sixers. The bad? The sore and tired legs of Allen and Pierce will have only one day off before the start of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday night.
Garnett has played the past 30 or so games as if it were 2008 -- when he teamed with Pierce, Allen and a young Rajon Rondo to win the NBA title. KG, who will turn 36 in the middle of the series against Philadelphia, came out of the gates this season slow and it appeared he would finish his career as a role player. However, KG answered the critics by averaging 17.4 points and 8.8 rebounds in the 28 games in the months of February and March. He just completed the Atlanta series putting up 18.7 points and 10.5 boards per contest.
But Garnett is the middle child in terms of age. Allen will be 37 in July and Pierce will hit 35 in October. They don't need to be told that the writing is on the wall.
"We're playing like this is it," Pierce said. "It might be our last chance together."
"You have no idea what you are doing when you say those old comments," Garnett said in reference to the media's constant mentions of his age. "I appreciate that. I don't read your column, but it gets back to me."
The Celtics need Allen and his bum ankle to get healthier and for him to make shots. They need Pierce's knee to hold up. They need Garnett to bring back some of that old-school KG, like what we saw on Thursday night.
Because let's face it: No one wants to see a Philadelphia-Miami Eastern Conference finals except for maybe Sir Charles, Moses Malone and Andrew "The Boston Strangler" Toney.
Maybe this Celtics team does have a final gallon or two in their tank -- and far more motivation.
"This is it," Pierce said over and over after the victory.
Let's see how far they can draw it out.