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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Carrying Celtics tougher than ever for hobbled Kevin Garnett

The power forward will turn 34 in May, and even teammates wonder how long he can continue doing the heavy lifting for a team that's also had its share of injuries.

February 18, 2010|Mark Heisler

KG as in, this is KillinG him. . . .

What you see was all you ever got from Kevin Garnett, but it was still a lot, expressed in bubbling emotion on the floor rather than dialogue off it.

Those were the good old days, intense as they seemed at the time.

Now this beating heart in a basketball uniform teeters on a leg taped from ankle to knee, trying to regain some of his old bounce, with no more riding on it than the Boston Celtics' return to glory and his dream ending.

Not that embodying his team's hopes is new for Garnett.

The new part is not being that Kevin Garnett, at least at the moment, an agonizing state for someone whose legendary ferocity now gnaws on him.

"I don't have to watch him, I see him every day," said teammate Paul Pierce over All-Star weekend. "I'm aware it's definitely hell for him.

"He's definitely frustrated because of the injuries and the things he's had to go through to get to a certain level, where he still has a lot of things to do."

That's all of them. The Celtics are now a majestic, wounded animal with wolves all around.

The majesty is undeniable. They've been special from the moment Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen joined up in a late-career opportunity they embraced with a vengeance, going 72-11 from their three season openers to Christmas.

After Christmas, when health and depth became issues, it took a harrowing postseason with seven-game series in the first two rounds to win their title in 2008 . . . and another as hard, or harder, last spring in 2009 when they still got within one win of the East Finals without KG.

In this Last Hurrah -- they hope -- Celtics no longer even acknowledge injuries, although they've had them up one side of their venerable roster (KG has missed 11 games, Pierce seven) and down the other (Marquis Daniels 29, Glen Davis 28).

Talking about injuries sounds too much like, "We'll be fine in the spring, tra la."

Instead, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers notes that even if they are trying to be their best at the end of the season, not now, "We haven't shown anybody we can be that yet."

Ordeal III has definitely taught Garnett patience -- he says -- even if he has just enough to say that much, once.

Garnett rarely holds still long enough for anyone to ask about anything other than that night's game. Last spring after being sidelined, he maintained a stony silence right up to their Game 7 loss to Orlando.

Approached afterward by Boston writers, Garnett uttered four words:

"See you next season."

Last weekend's All-Star media session obliged him to take questions for 45 minutes, but nobody said he had to answer them all.

The first, a polite inquiry about his health from a Boston writer, elicited a raised-eyebrow response.

"This is what the basis of All-Star weekend is going to be right here?" said Garnett.

"I'm good, man. You get into a phase, new revelations come into your life, it makes you stronger. From my injury, I think I had to acquire some patience and understanding, not only knowing my body but preserving my legs and such.

"But when I work out and when I'm going, it's just the same mentality, 100%. I'm no different than any other player in this league at this point. Everybody's banged up at this time. It's just what our league is."

Actually, half the players in their league would be on the beach by now with their agents discussing buyouts.

In Minnesota, Coach Flip Saunders used to say Garnett's knees were "bone on bone." Even if it was an exaggeration, that was five years ago.

Not that KG was going to be talking about that. "What are you talking about?" he said when asked about it.

Wear and tear on his legs?

"I'm going to speak one time about my health," Garnett said last weekend. "It's great. I'm happy to be here. I'm playing in the game, no more than that, no less than that.

"I'm not going to sit up here and make this the theme of the weekend, about my leg and if my health is whatever. We're here to enjoy this break."

To help Garnett enjoy it even more, an understanding East Coach Stan Van Gundy played him only 12 minutes in the All-Star game!

As if the Celtics didn't have enough problems, they came out of the break on a four-game West Coast trip, including Thursday night against the Lakers.

It's not about rivalry now, but survival, with Rivers noting, "We're not concerned about them, we're more concerned about us," and Kobe Bryant talking about sitting out.

Of course, as newborns in Lakerdom can tell you, their team has gone 4-0 without Kobe!

"I think they should just go the rest of the year without him," mused Rivers. "They'd be terrific. What do you think?"

Maybe in your next dynasty.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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