What about Kevin? It's the question Celtics coach
Garnett's injury looms as the largest of the obstacles that have popped up on Boston's path to defending the NBA crown. There was the matchup with Chicago, one of the league's hottest teams, which surged into the playoffs with a 12-4 regular-season finish. There was the torn left ACL in Game 2 that ended power forward
Okay, so what about Kevin? If Celtics players stumble when they attempt to answer questions about life without Garnett, it's because despite the injury, he's still very much around. Aside from his conspicuous absence from the bench during the second half of Game 1 -- he was so frustrated at being unable to play that he went to the locker room to watch the game on TV -- Garnett has been a constant presence. "I call him Coach Kevin," says Rivers. "He's always talking to the guys, offering advice." Indeed, at halftime of Game 3, Rivers, after briefly huddling with his staff in a room adjacent to Boston's locker room, went in to address the team and found that Garnett had beaten him to it. "He was standing up there with the video pointer," says Rivers. "I love it. If you don't listen to Kevin, there is something wrong with you."
The player benefiting the most from Garnett's influence is
But Garnett may also be Davis's strongest supporter. Just before each opening tip in the playoffs, Garnett spends about 30 seconds jabbering in Davis's ear, his face so close that his nose threatens to puncture Davis's eardrum. "Kevin and Glen, they have a different relationship," says Pierce. "Glen looks to Kevin for advice. Part of why he has improved so much is because Kevin is talking to him all the time." In Game 1 Bulls point guard
Still, there is only so much help Garnett can provide in a well-tailored suit. Without his presence in the low post, the Celtics' offense is dependent on the perimeter shooting of Pierce and Allen and on Rondo's ability to create off penetration. Rondo has had a superior first round, averaging a triple double (23.3 points, 10.0 assists and a startling 10.8 rebounds) through four games. But Pierce and Allen have been inconsistent. In the first two games Pierce shot 40%, and he missed a likely game-winning free throw in Game 1. Allen's electric 30-point performance in Game 2 balanced his four points and 1-for-12 shooting in the opener. This unevenness shows why Boston's championship prospects cloud significantly without Garnett. "Kevin is our run stopper," says Rivers. "With him there we had the option of throwing it in the post and letting him swing it around, or take it himself and score. We could control the pace. Without him we have trouble controlling it."
He's missed on defense as well. In games played with Garnett in the regular season, the Celtics gave up 90.8 points per game; without him that number ballooned to 99.4. This is because Garnett is a master at seeing where a play is going and positioning his teammates accordingly. Also, he just plain scares people. "There are a lot of [soft players] in this league," says an Eastern Conference coach. "And Garnett intimidates every one of them."
One can only imagine how that intimidation would have affected the Bulls, who have three starters under age 25. An hour before the opening tip in Game 1,
"Hey, man," he said, to no one in particular, "how long is the media in here?"
"Calm down," said
After making a quick lap around the room, Noah made a beeline for the locker room door, going to the court.
"A lot of young fellas here," said reserve guard Lindsey Hunter, who entered the series with 141 games of playoff experience to Noah's none. "Lot of pent-up energy."
But when Chicago took the floor, that energy suddenly looked like a good thing. In Game 1 Rose outdueled Rondo as the Bulls pulled out a 105-103 overtime win. Chicago showed similar scrap in Game 2, falling just short in an epic duel between
The Bulls have indeed come a long way this season. Chicago spent the first half toward the bottom of the standings while rookie coach
They built the attack around Rose, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft. Besides being a proven winner, having led his Illinois high school team to back-to-back state titles and Memphis to within a free throw of an NCAA championship, he proved early on that he was capable of being the Bulls' focal point. Rose's penetrating skills -- his speed and power resemble those of a running back -- created opportunities for hyperactive big men Thomas and Noah and opened up the floor for Gordon's outside shooting. The midseason acquisition from the Kings of veterans
Sunday's win only emboldened Chicago's brash center. As he reclined in a chair in front of his locker after the game, Noah wondered aloud why it was Boston's adversity that everyone was focused on. "People underestimate how much we have gone through," said Noah. "[In January] our [owner] called our season a disaster. We lost six in a row and were booed at home. Three months ago if you asked anyone in Chicago if we would be 2-2 with Boston in the playoffs, I don't think anyone would have told you that could happen." A few doors down the hallway a shell-shocked Celtics team struggled to come up with answers. One thing they do know: If they ultimately win the series, their difficulty in getting past Chicago will serve as a reminder of the hard road ahead. And it will all but guarantee that they'll keep hearing questions about Kevin.