WASHINGTON - Kevin Garnett looked nimble and energetic Friday night against the Pistons, yet that increased activity produced little in terms of numbers. A week into the shortened season, the 35-year-old forward had not placed his large imprint on any of the first four games.
He changed that last night at Verizon Center. Looking like the player who arrived in Boston from Minneapolis four years ago, Garnett played with brimming confidence and aggression. Along with a brilliant triple-double from Rajon Rondo, the duo combined to help the Celtics cruise to a 94-86 win over the Washington Wizards.
Garnett finished with 24 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes while Rondo darted and dished his way to 18 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds for his eighth regular-season triple-double and 14th overall.
Garnett was such a fan favorite that he signed a Celtics’ cap on his way through the tunnel after the team’s second consecutive victory. It was the type of performance the Celtics had been seeking from Garnett, who entered the game averaging 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Garnett saved his best for the final quarter as Washington reduced the Celtics’ lead to 80-73 with 7:49 left on consecutive baskets by Trevor Booker. Garnett responded with 7 of the Celtics’ next 11 points, including a clinching conventional three-point play for a 91-77 lead with 4:14 left.
The days of Garnett as a dominant low-post scorer and volume rebounder may have dissipated, but he proved last night he’s capable of the occasional vintage performance.
“[Celtics coach] Doc [Rivers] always tells me to stay aggressive and tonight I did that,’’ said Garnett, who eclipsed the 20-point mark 18 times last season. “I was able to get into a good rhythm and hit some shots. My role on the team is to be the glue defensively. We will see this team again in 24 hours and we will have to play with the same intensity.’’
Rondo, meanwhile, committed just three turnovers as he spent the evening facing off against Washington cornerstone John Wall, who finished with 19 points and eight assists. The difference was Rondo was able to get his teammates more involved as 11 of the 13 Celtics scored.
The Celtics won Friday against Detroit with Rondo recording just five assists. Last night, he recorded six in the first quarter as he was the catalyst of the Celtics’ crisp, ball-moving offense. The 17,458 in attendance, many Boston fans, were wowed by the Celtics’ pinpoint passing. In one sequence Garnett tossed a no-look pass to Rondo for a fourth-quarter layup and an 88-75 lead.
“It was a real team effort tonight,’’ said Rondo, who has 20 career games of 10 or more rebounds. “Sometimes if a guy is not making his shot, we have a team where you can pick your poison and every game somebody can step up. Tonight, we had to fight back after they made a run. Kevin made some big shots for us.’’
Boston (2-3) allowed the feisty Wizards to cut the lead to 7 on a few occasions in the second half, but always responded with a run. An 8-2 surge gave the Celtics a 13-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, a cushion they sorely needed.
The Celtics came off their victory over Detroit with their best half of the season, shooting a blistering 55.6 percent and getting points from 10 players as they raced to a 51-34 lead.
The most encouraging sign was the energetic play of Garnett, who tallied 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting and six rebounds in the first 24 minutes. Garnett had looked passive and lethargic in stretches of the first three games.
Last night, he was popping jumpers and soaring toward the basket on pick-and-rolls. Perhaps the matchup against Washington’s Andray Blatche, one of his younger counterparts, was the motivation. The two have faced off literally over the years with Blatche angrily blaming Garnett for spitting in his face during an exchange two years ago in Boston.
This time, Garnett began touching Blatche with his right arm, annoying the mercurial forward, who began complaining to officials. After a timeout, Blatche was chewed out by former Celtic, Garnett teammate, and current Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell, who pleaded for Blatche to concentrate.
Blatche finished with just 10 points and three rebounds in 34 minutes, a victim of Garnett’s mental hoaxes.
“He woke up aggressive,’’ Rivers said of Garnett. “Kevin is the easiest, best guy to coach. He really is. He just keeps telling me, ‘Stay on me, stay on me.’ He is just a great guy to coach.’’
The Celtics were able to harness JaVale McGee, who has been an issue for the Celtics the past few years. The Celtics have not had a center athletic enough to run the floor with the gangly big man. He finished with 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks, but scored just 2 points in the final quarter.
Rivers has stressed getting off to positive starts after the Celtics fell behind by at least 15 points in the first half of the first three games. Washington had been a troublesome place for the Celtics to play in recent years, and last season they lost the season finale here, which damaged their chances at getting the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Celtics came out more impassioned last night and dominated a lesser team, and then spent the last 36 minutes staving off rallies. Now they get an opportunity to do it again tonight as the teams meet at TD Garden.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.