By Ryan Thomas
Late in his career, Curt Schilling realized he wasn’t the same top of the rotation ace who could bust batters inside with 95 mile-per-hour fastballs, then make them chase nasty splitters in the dirt. 2,800-plus innings over 16 Major League seasons had taken a toll on his body (not that it was a heralded physique to begin with) and he needed to realize the same approach wasn’t going to get batters out anymore.
So he dialed back one tick, mixed in a changeup and a curveball, and relied on his best assets: control and knowledge.
2006 and 2007 were Schilling’s “reinvented years.” He threw a bevy of offspeed pitches and barely touched 90 on the gun some nights, but when it counted, he came through and helped win the Red Sox their second World Series title in four years.
Begrudgingly, it took him almost a year to realize he wasn’t the old Schilling and that he needed to evolve and become a different type of pitcher, someone who got you out on smarts and savvy, not on heat and filth.
Kevin Garnett seems to be at a similar crossroads. His body has over 40,000 NBA minutes on it. Prior to his Celtics days, he banged with bigs in the Western Conference for over a dozen years, which wreaks havoc on any body.
Over the last three seasons, we have watched KG tumble away from elite status, much like we watched Schilling plummet post-2004. His knees have abandoned him to the point where he has struggled to get up for the receiving end of alley-oops, to the point where forwards like Rashard Lewis burn him baseline late in games.
But could Garnett be turning the corner? Recently, KG went up for an ‘oop. Instead of trying to slam it in and getting rejected by the rim (common this season), he finger-rolled it in for an easy two points. That single finger roll indicated that, maybe, this Garnett we’ve been seeing the past few weeks is a savvier, more grounded player. A player who is now realistic, who knows his limitations and must adjust to his aging body in order to get 100 percent out of whatever’s left.
Does he realize now that he can’t always get up for those Garden-shaking, Rondo-fed alley oops? It seems like it. Is he a guy that will contribute more on help defense and rely on his teammates instead of challenging 5-foot-11 guards at the top of the key, only to get burned? I hope so.
KG is not a shell of himself. That’s not the point. He’s just not 2008’s Kevin Garnett. Anyone who has watched Celtics basketball the last three years and has a semi-functioning brain can tell you that. The guy just doesn’t move as quick, he doesn’t react the same. He can’t get way up anymore. He no longer runs the floor like a Gazelle. This is something even a James Posey hug can’t cure.
All negativity aside, Garnett is still an important cog to this Celtics team and its success. He’s still the smartest player on his team, much like Schilling was. He’s still got the guts of a soldier and the balls of a champion.
His game may have slowed down, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of running through the Eastern Conference with numbers 9, 20 and 34 flanking him.
Look for Garnett to discover his curveball a little more and then watch in earnest to find out if the New Big Three have one more run in them.