The careers of professional athletes end, as a general rule, about the way Hemingway described going bankrupt: slowly, then all at once. An injury — say a knee sprain that happens in a February 2009 game in Utah — occurs, never fully heals, becomes a chronic, lingering source of discomfort, then, as the player fights through it, adjusts, maybe unconsciously to mitigate the pain, a host of other maladies spring from the adjustment: calf strains, tendonitis of various stripe, back pain.
Bio-mechanical breakdown ensues.
Eventually, they’re a shell of themselves. A copy of a copy; like that Michael Keaton movie, but even harder to watch. A season later they’re on a golf course.
Kevin Garnett, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, is not on a golf course right now.
In the first three games of this second round series—to say nothing of what he did to the Hawks in the one that preceded it—the suddenly ageless KG dominated the Sixers to an almost impossible extent: as in 103 minutes, 31-of-49 shooting, 36 rebounds, and four blocks. And the 7-6 were, as almost any of the Association’s other 28 would be, impotent to stop it.
Elton Brand had, to surprisingly little acclaim, had one of the best defensive seasons in the NBA. But, at just 6’8, he doesn’t have the length necessary to disrupt the mid-range game of Garnett — who’s listed at 6’11, but measured that height as a 19-year-old and is near universally thought to be well over 7-feet now. Thad Young has the athleticism, and while his leaping ability offsets the same height disadvantage EB suffers, he doesn’t really have the savvy to stick with a guy who’s been around the block so many times the neighbors now wave at him now when he spins by. Lavoy Allen has length and athleticism, but is a rookie: refer back to the Thad Young vs. KG’s veteran savvy dynamic, and consider that Young is a fifth-year veteran while Allen was playing against the A-10 15 months ago. Also consider that he’s Lavoy Allen. So while he’s done a nice job vs. KG in stretches, his success is not likely to last. Nic Vucevic is only technically on the team at this point.
This leaves just Spencer Hawes who is…well, we’ll just assume that if you’re interested enough in basketball to read about it in blog form, you don’t need to have it explained to you why Spencer Hawes can’t handle Garnett.
So, with respect to KG, the Sixers have…nothing. There is no one on the roster who can handle a 7’2 (?) mutant who drains 20-footers, gets his shot over anybody, and passes out of double teams with the facility of a point guard. Heading into Game 4, it appeared the only way KG would be stopped was if he stopped himself.
Which is exactly what he did.
While improved chemistry, new found clutch-ness, the rise of Andre Iguodala, and all manner of other quasi-reasonable explanations have been bandied about in the wake of the Sixers remarkable 92-83 series-tying win — the one where they fell behind 14-0 before 3:30 had been played, hit nine of their first 43 shots, scored 31 points in the first half, and watched, thumb firmly in rectum, while Paul Pierce, mangled MCL and all, shot 8-of-13, then roared back to score 61 points in the second half while holding Boston to an 11-of-35 mark from the floor—the thing that really swung Game 4 the Sixers’ way was this: Kevin Garnett.
Shots: 12. Makes: three. Points: nine. Turnovers: seven.
The comeback, suffice it to say, wouldn’t have been possible with a clicking Garnett. And it didn’t appear, at least to this set of eyes, that his struggles were a function of any scheme change on the part of the 7-6, or an extraordinary effort by a one of their many bigs with bruised pride, but just Garnett not playing well.
It’s not a satisfying or romantic morale to draw, certainly not one that screams Go Team, but if the Sixers are going to escape this series, advance to the ECF for the first time since 2001, they just have to hope the Celtic’s “Big Ticket” plays how he did Friday — which is to say: badly — twice more.
Hey Kevin, could I interest you in a round of golf?