LONDON -- Ricky Davis spun around the man guarding him on the right wing, quickly glanced into the low post and saw a familiar face. Instinctively, the Minnesota Timberwolves guard almost zipped the ball inside. At the last possible instant, though, Davis double-clutched.
|It looks like Celtic green is definitely a good color for K.G. (Getty Images)|
Davis caught himself just in time, his double-clutch indicative of the double-take many NBA fans will do when they see Garnett for the first time in the uniform of the league's most storied franchise.
"It was different, y'know?" Davis said. "In all my years in the NBA, I've always seen him play in the white and blue. So it was definitely a different experience seeing Kevin in green."
Davis, the rest of the Wolves and their fans had better get used to it, because there will be no escaping this one. Bill Russell, the Celtics' legendary No. 6, was in the house across the pond Wednesday, too, driving home the point that the team's new No. 5 now plays for a team with just a teensy more history and tradition than Minneapolis' second NBA entry.
If you don't accept that on its face, think of Cousy, Bird, McHale, Parish, Havlicek, Cowens, Jones, Jones, Johnson, Sharman and a dozen more. Then think of the second-most famous player in Wolves annals, who likely would come from the short list of Stephon Marbury (for skipping town), Isaiah Rider (for screwing up), Christian Laettner (for sneering), Wally Szczerbiak (for spelling) or Latrell Sprewell (for saying something supremely stupid).
What hard-core NBA enthusiasts back in the States will have to wait to see, a sellout crowd of curiosity seekers, in a place that truly puts the foot in football, got to sample barely a week into the 2007-08 preseason: the surreal sight of Garnett clashing with his former team, the player with the longest tenure with one club -- 12 seasons, until this summer -- doing everything in his power to beat those guys.
The 10-time All-Star, the centerpiece of the Celtics-Wolves mega-swap of the offseason (five players and two draft picks for Garnett), had a night longer on intangibles than stats. He scored nine points with six rebounds, two assists, two steals, three blocked shots and six turnovers, yet joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the bench for the whole fourth quarter, the Boston trio's work done, their potential unveiled.
"With this team, it excites all of us because, on any given night, based on matchups, anybody can carry the team," Allen said after he did the heavy lifting against Minnesota with 28 points, hitting five of eight 3-pointers.
Pierce made only one of his six shots, missed 5 of 11 free throws, finished with eight points -- and it didn't hurt the Celtics one bit. That's how it figures to go this season, even on nights when no one has a chip on his shoulder.
Actually, Garnett took on his former club in name only; four of the five Wolves in the starting lineup never played with him and, of the 13 Minnesota players who participated, only two -- Rashad McCants and Marko Jaric -- were teammates of Garnett two full seasons ago.
So what Garnett did Wednesday, he allegedly would have done against any of the other NBA teams.
"No hard feelings," he said afterward. "It's a new team over there. It's a lot of new faces. Obviously, Randy (Wittman, head coach), (owner) Glen Taylor and Kevin McHale have been there as long as I (was) there. But when it comes to the players and the team, I have no hard feelings. I've been fortunate to come to a great organization in Boston, and I'm just focusing on what's in front of me. The past is past. I view this as a new chapter in my life."
A new chapter, with what he hopes will be a storybook ending. That's why, while he played only three quarters, Garnett worked a full four. He hunkered down on one knee when the Celtics were at the far end in that final period, springing up to clap his hands when Tony Allen got to the rim and got fouled. At one point, he reached to his left, borrowed Boston assistant Kevin Eastman's pen and hastily diagrammed a Minnesota play call on Eastman's legal pad, a tidbit for a future meeting.
Garnett alternately encouraged and instructed guards Rajon Rondo and Eddie House on defensive positioning and delighted Kendrick Perkins with bullet passes for consecutive dunks. Garnett did basically what Boston bargained for when it swapped its future for the present.
"He's going to score because he's so talented," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "But what he's going to do is make you not double-team him because he's such a willing passer. He has a compass on what his teammates are feeling. A lot of stars don't have that compass. He takes the shot three or four times in a row, he's thinking already, 'I've got to get someone else involved.' That's a nice thing, most of the time. Sometimes when he's got it going, you want him to take that fifth shot in a row. But on this team you don't really have to worry a lot, because you've got other guys who can shoot it, too."
This move to Boston, in other words, should appeal to Garnett's inner Scottie Pippen. In Pierce and Allen, he has two teammates eager to take the last shot, a superstar's responsibility with which he never got comfortable.
"Kevin truly is a pass-first player. He always has been," McHale, the Wolves' vice president of basketball operations, said an hour before tipoff. "He needs and wants scorers that he can pass to. He should be very, very comfortable. They've got guys who are scorers -- for all the points that he has scored in this league, he's not what you call a scorer. He's just a basketball player.
"You could run every play for Kevin and he'd score 25. You could run no plays for him and he'd get 23."
The Celtics will be better off if everyone simply stops counting. Pulling together a new edition of the "Big Three" will work only if they truly stay three. Or better yet, 12. Said McHale: "It's not like you're talking about three 24-year-old guys. They're all established. Winning should be the top priority. I'd be shocked if it didn't work for them."
There goes McHale, sticking his old pal Danny Ainge, Celtics GM, with a little more pressure. Boston's made-over team, the biggest story of the NBA's early season, faces its greatest expectations, with anything short of the Eastern Conference finals likely to be seen as a disappointment.
"We won't know that until the playoffs anyway," Rivers said. "As far as wins and losses, I don't know how that's going to work out. But I think the expectations are at the end. That's when we have to fulfill 'em."