Kevin Garnett’s 20th NBA season began in a place where he considers home. Returning to Boston is still emotional for Garnett, and he played well Wednesday night despite the Brooklyn Nets’ generally putrid display in a 121-105 season-opening Celtics win.
Even though he spent the second half getting into a scrape with Kelly Olynyk, and his team didn’t look interested most of the way (discouraging for a season opener, no?), and the Nets played little defense, Garnett was in an unusually chipper mood following the game.
Being back in Boston seemed to make the miserable performance more acceptable, at least for now. Garnett was glowing about the Celtics’ future, his old buddy Rajon Rondo, and being home.
Garnett won’t say if this will be his last season, but at least he appeared more energetic and productive than he did in his first season in Brooklyn. He scored 10 points with 6 rebounds and 3 assists in 23 minutes, popping his customary midrange jumper consistently as he did so many times with the Celtics.
Garnett was a shell of himself last year. Perhaps it was the change of scenery or the fact that Jason Kidd hardly emphasized him offensively, but he looked weathered. Wednesday night, he looked rejuvenated.
“I don’t know what I looked like but I felt OK,” he said. “I felt strong, left it out there on the floor. Again, I don’t video record myself. I’ll watch film tonight on me but for the most part I felt strong. I want to be more assertive, especially with Brook [Lopez] out. I think all of us has to take the onus of being assertive, I’m no different from that.”
Garnett’s place in the NBA hierarchy has changed considerably over the past five years. Perhaps that revision began when LeBron James laughed in Garnett’s face after some unsavory words during the Eastern Conference finals, or maybe it was when Danny Ainge quickly shuttled Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn on draft night to begin the Celtics rebuild.
The 2013-14 season was the worst statistical year of Garnett’s career. He averaged 6.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, and shot a ghastly 44.1 percent from the field. He never looked comfortable in the black and white of Brooklyn. He was doing more pick-setting that popping that midrange jumper. He was a complementary player, hardly an emphasis, and there was speculation that he would walk away.
But there were a couple of encouragements to return: the $12 million remaining on the final year of his contract and the opportunity to atone for that lost season. Garnett’s career covers several basketball generations. We all still remember a gangly 20-year-old running the floor, part in the middle of his head, dunking Stephon Marbury alley-oops for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He began the prep-to-pro trend. It almost seems like yesterday, but it isn’t. Mo Vaughn was the American League MVP, Hootie and the Blowfish won the Grammy for Best New Artist, and Rondo celebrated his 10th birthday all during Garnett’s rookie season.
He is part of our cherished NBA memories and he’s trying to etch one more memory for the present. Brooklyn is not likely a candidate for a long playoff run. The Nets looked totally lethargic in the first half when they allowed the Celtics to score 67 points on 61 percent shooting.
The presence of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson meant nothing. The Celtics still outworked and out-executed the Nets all evening, and Garnett took notice.
“Their schemes were very clever,” he said. “They do unorthodox things such as putting a big in the corner, having the big roll, that’s a lot of pressure on your small [men]. My hat goes off to coach Stevens and his schemes. They played well.”
Meanwhile, Garnett watched Rondo nearly amass another triple double with 13 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds in 30 minutes. Garnett gave his little brother a hug before the game and nothing but adulation afterward.
“Rondo was classic,” Garnett said. “I don’t know what he said he’s at, 83 percent? Helluva 83 percent. He played well and he led his team to a win tonight.”
Said Rondo: “It was a special game going against KG. He’s like my big brother. He hit me a couple times on a pick but he didn’t hit me like he was hitting Avery [Bradley] and Jeff [Green]. He nailed guys on a pick and I’m used to him nailing guys for me. It’s always great to play against the guy, especially since it’s his 20th year.”
Garnett has one more official visit to Boston this season, Dec. 26. It may be his last appearance before he gets his jersey retired at TD Garden. His career is nearly complete, his legacy nearly finished, and Boston has a large part of that heritage and he embraces that.
“It’s always special to come into Beantown. It’s very hard to focus,” he said. “I had to go to Yoga this morning, get my meditation right, stay level. Lot of energy in the building. It’s always great to come back here. I love Beantown. I bleed green. Y’all know what it is.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.