Game 6: Hacks and Garnett

1212679756Time off is a dangerous thing in the post-season. Your flight might get grounded, for example. But as bad as it is for the players, it’s even worse for the writers. A day off in the NBA Finals leads to all kinds of nonsense.

It was hard to tell which off-day piece was the most egregious: Dan Shaughnessy’s “It will happen tonight and if it doesn’t I’ll just use it an excuse to create another bogus woe is us storyline?” Peter Vecsey quoting Ron Artest (yes, really) on why Kevin Garnett is a ‘fake franchise player? Or Jemele Hill inexplicably connecting the Celtics and, ahem, Hitler?

Regarding the first and the last, what are you going to do? The former is standard drivel, the latter showed remarkably poor judgment. But Vecsey’s piece has resonance. The idea that Garnett is not a great player, but rather a choking dog, and worse than that, a front-running phony, has found wide acceptance during the playoffs.

Here’s the deal with Garnett: He is not allowed to have a bad game, ever, and his performance in Game 5 was dreadful. He knows that. He rightly called it “garbage” after it was over. If the Celtics had gotten anything from Garnett Sunday night, we wouldn’t be having any of these conversations.

It does seem odd, however, that a player who was hailed as a savior for six months, and who has turned in huge performances in several of the Celtics biggest playoff games, is universally derided as a choker.

Most of that stems from his time in Minnesota where he got the T-Wolves out of the first round exactly one time. (That was he was surrounded by mostly sub-par rosters doesn’t seem to really matter). Then there is his reluctance to play offense from the low post. In the macho world of the NBA that makes him soft.

Never mind that he plays as hard on defense as any player in the league. Never mind that he owns a fantastic jump shot, and by staying on the perimeter he can get back on defense more quickly. Never mind that when he does try to force the issue he looks, well, forced, like an awkward sixth-grader unsure of his move.

Tonight should be Garnett’s time. With Kendrick Perkins probably out, Garnett is the Celtics inside presence. Between Rajon Rondo’s ankle, Paul Pierce’s knee, and Ray Allen’s unfortunate problem with his son’s health, Garnett is the one Celtic who enters the game without any physical or mental baggage. (Assuming he doesn’t give a good god damn what Vecsey thinks about him, of course).

This is where it gets tricky. If he has a monster game tonight, all that talk about him goes away forever. But, Garnett has made his mark in Boston by bringing the concept of team back. He has mocked and derided any talk of individual accomplishment, to the point that his detractors think he’s being disingenuous about that too.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter if Garnett does it his way, of if he tries to appease the Greek Chorus. It only matters that he does it. Preferably tonight.