The Night Boston Fell For KG

1199374159It was just another in a long line of games, and frankly, it was bound to happen. For once, the Celtics were not sharp. There had been a West Coast trip, capped off by a punishing and chippy game with the Lakers, and the legs were simply not there. Hey, it’s the NBA. It happens.

Yao Ming had alternately abused, and fouled out, Kendrick Perkins and Scot Pollard (although the latter made things interesting with an out-of-nowhere 10 points). An 11-point halftime lead had become a fourth-quarter deficit. This is where the vast majority of NBA teams unconsciously (or if you’re the Knicks, consciously) pack it in.

But Doc Rivers had one move left: put Kevin Garnett on Yao and hope for the best. Understand that for all his defensive prowess, Garnett was giving up seven inches and almost 100 pounds to Yao.

What happened next should be one of the first highlights on the year-end DVD. Garnett, not only took over the game, he took over the building with a virtuoso performance. It will be remembered as the night the city fell in love with KG.

On defense, Garnett harassed Yao, expertly moving him away from his preferred spot in the low post. He blocked one of his shots and changed several others. On the other end of the floor, he bailed out the Celtics with one long range jumper after another.

And then, with 1:21 left on the clock, something entirely unexpected happened. Coming out of the timeout, Garnett began raising his arms to the crowd like a conductor demanding that the 18,624 rise out of their seats and become part of the game. After drilling another 19-footer he popped his Celtics jersey like an exuberant college kid at the Final Four and let loose with a primordial scream.

Just another night in the NBA? Hardly. Paul Pierce, so elated to be free of the motley collection of kids that had been assembled around him for so long, jumped on Garnett’s back with a huge smile on his face.

The numbers say Garnett had 26 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks, but it was so much more than that. Dan Shaughnessy called his fourth quarter performance a combination of Bill Russell and Jo Jo White. Tony Massarotti pointed out that Garnett held Yao without a shot for 6 minutes and 15 seconds.

The Celtics have been great theater over the first 30 games. Their 27-3 mark, as we have been told, is the best 30-game opening stretch in the history of the franchise. Still, they seemed more like a pleasant dream than reality. Strange men in Celtics jerseys from places like Minnesota, Seattle, Miami, and New Jersey. That all changed last night. A love affair was properly consummated.

PHOTO by the Herald’s Matt Stone.