Standing in front of a throng of reporters, Celtics coach
Rivers didn't, of course. He did what you would expect: lament the loss of star forward
In a spectacular moment of ambiguity, Rivers did not officially rule out Garnett for the entire postseason, but the coach said Boston's emotional leader was "
Moments earlier, Allen stood in the same spot and worked off the same script. He called the loss of Garnett "unfortunate" and said he was "devastated" for his teammate, but added that the team "still feels good about what we're are capable of."
A few minutes later, it was Pierce's turn. The Celtics' captain said Garnett's absence was "hurting him more than it was hurting us." He said he was prepared for a playoff run without Garnett "10 or 12 games ago" and talked about how the Celtics could now officially move on knowing he wasn't going to be with them.
And Pierce was right. They were all right. Right up until the point where they said they could still defend their championship. Because they can't.
This is not a knock on Pierce, who in the last two-and-a-half months has looked like Pierce circa 2002, when he averaged a career-best 26.1 points per game and carried Boston to the Eastern Conference finals. This season, he averaged 24.7 points in February, 21.4 points in March and 22.7 points in April. His scoring average is up nearly four points with Garnett out of the lineup. "I don't think I've ever seen Pierce playing better," an NBA scout said last month.
Nor is it an attempt to disparage Allen, who tied a career high by shooting 48 percent from the field, averaged 18.2 points and set the franchise record for free-throw accuracy (95.2 percent) this season.
And it's certainly not an attack on Powe or Davis. In just two years Powe has emerged as one of the most physical rebounders in the league. "He kills us on the glass," said an assistant coach from an Eastern Conference playoff team. "He's relentless, you just can't move him out." Meanwhile, Davis, whose wide body and soft touch around the rim made a perimeter game superfluous at the college level, has become a valuable role player thanks to the 15-foot jump shot he added to his game in the offseason.
Those are all positives for Boston. But they are dwarfed by one, 6-foot-11, 253-pound negative: Garnett.
Garnett is, quite simply, irreplaceable. The defensive numbers speak for themselves: Boston is giving up 90.8 points with Garnett, 99.1 without him. But Garnett's contributions on the offensive end are often overlooked. True, Boston's scoring average is up 2.2 points without KG. But Garnett is not only Boston's most effective post presence, but many times its
Boston probably has enough to win its first-round series. Chicago has played like a different team since acquiring
But if the Celtics advance, they will be at a decided disadvantage against their potential second- and third-round opponents. Without Garnett, Boston will sorely miss a defender who is long enough and strong enough to contend with Howard. Should the Celtics get past the Magic, they will face a tsunami of big men from the Cavaliers, who will wear down Boston's front line in the ways the Celtics did to so many teams last season.
Banner No. 18 may still go up with Garnett, Pierce and Allen in Celtics uniforms. Unfortunately, it will likely take a miracle to raise it after this season.