We’ve seen what happens to the Celtics when Kevin Garnett isn’t in the line up. We know it. But if you don’t, Cedric Maxwell summed it up quite nicely on CSNNE:
“I think the thing about KG, KG is the engine,” Maxwell said. “You can have the keys — Rondo has the keys to everything — but KG is the engine and when the engine is going the car is going the right way. KG rebounds effectively and defensively he is the captain of what they do really well. When he’s been out of the game, they have struggled.”
That’s not breaking news. That’s been more the norm around here than anything. But KG isn’t going to be around forever, and at this stage of his career, the Celtics are lucky to have him out there for 30 minutes a night (28.7, right now, to be exact).
He is the Celtics’ Faberge’ egg. He’s a priceless heirloom with roots that span deep into the NBA’s history. His mean-spirited attitude towards opponents has been called refreshing by old-school NBA’ers like Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge, who worked at a time where the term “flagrant foul” didn’t exist. He is, unequivocally, the most important defensive entity on the Celtics. And, when you consider how his influence permeates every aspect of the team’s defense, you can argue he’s perhaps the most important defensive presence in the league.
And maybe that’s why the Celtics stink on defense right now.
Take, for example, Jared Sullinger’s comments about KG:
“Sometimes he talks too much to the point where you know you’re in perfect position and if you mess up, it’s your fault,” Sullinger said. “Because he talks so much. But when you have him out there defensively, it’s a lot easier.”
“Sometimes he talks too much.”
That’s hardly an indictment of KG. That’s actually an indictment of everyone else who has grown, perhaps, too accustomed to KG’s barking of orders. And rather than learn from the orders he’s giving them, they rely on them a bit too much.
This, of course, is speculation. Not being inside anyone’s head, it’s impossible to know what they’re truly thinking. But the Celtics’ drop-off on defense seems to have gotten more pronounced without Garnett over time. And reading the words of a newcomer casually say “sometimes he talks too much” just makes you wonder.
Are the Celtics relying too much on Garnett to direct them, rather than analyze and react the situations on their own?
Of course, it’s hard to expect players to analyze and react quite like KG does. It’s hard to pick up the C’s rotations and strategies right away, as many of these new guys are expected to do. But just like a kid learning to ride a bike or roller skate, you have to take the training wheels off and let them fall every once in a while so they can learn how not to later.
“Sometimes he talks too much.”
Yes, KG is the Celtics’ training wheels. Of course, he’s just doing his job back there. The guys who are along the baseline defensively have to be able to read and react, much like a linebacker or safety in football. Garnett is the guy who sees the entire play unfolding. He’s supposed to be talking out there and directing his teammates because, if you’re on the ball, you only see the guy with the ball and maybe some hazy blurs out of your peripheral vision.
But the other Celtics need to recognize things, and they need to learn from Garnett what he’s seeing and why he’s seeing it. And despite how it may look sometimes, Garnett does not possess super human abilities to constantly live three seconds in the future so he can anticipate the oppositions’ moves. He is a student of the game who, in the past year or so, has taken great pains to remind people that he works at his craft.
And none of this is to say the Celtics aren’t learning from him, or won’t in the future. None of this accuses the Celtics of refusing to do anything. It’s a simple reaction to what Sullinger may consider an off-the-cuff statement. But those statements are usually the most honest. It’s those statements, made when the brain slips a one-liner past the “I’m talking to the media” filter, that can sometimes shed the most light on a situation.
Kevin Garnett, even at 36 and in his 18th season in the league, is profoundly important to the Celtics. But somehow, some way, they have to get away from relying on him so much that their defense falls apart without him on the floor. Somehow, the Celtics have to take the training wheels off and learn how to defend without him. If they don’t, they’ll start next season the same way they started this one… watching another team raise a banner