Just last week, Kevin Garnett expressed frustration with his patented one-dribble short jumper, particularly bothered that he didn't drain one that could have put the Nets over the top in their foiled comeback bid against the Lakers. Garnett that night borrowed a metaphor from New Edition's "Mr. Telephone Man'' when he said: "When I dial up that number, I expect for her to pick up and she didn't pick up today."
Garnett still might not have a perfect connection with that jumper, but he at least might be getting a clear dial tone after Saturday night's effort in the Nets' 97-88 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He shot 4-for-9 and had eight points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 27:59.
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"I'm just trying to give this team something, man," he said afterward. "I'm not shooting the ball the way I want to, but my primary thing is defense right now. So I'm trying to focus on just that now."
Garnett quietly had an effective fourth quarter, turning in one of his best efforts in the waning minutes of a game this season with four points, a pair of rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block. He never subbed out and served as the Nets' glue guy, giving the club the emotional jolt it needed to help fend off the Grizzlies a night after their lethargic display against the Rockets. As he searches for a comfort zone with his new team, that's the kind of production Garnett wants to deliver in the clutch.
Provided, of course, his 37-year-old body cooperates.
"I'm trying to figure out my role here, and understand it, and play it to the best of my ability," Garnett said. "I'm just trying to make it easy for the other guys here and vice versa. A couple of guys told me to keep my head up and gave me some good words of encouragement [Saturday]. It's coming."
Garnett, who was held out for rest purposes on the front end of the Nets' back-to-backs in Houston, is beginning to deliver the on-court production the Nets need out of him. It's a small sample size of late, but it's a start.
"He came here as being a role player," Nets coach Jason Kidd said. "He's not looking to be the focal point or the main guy . . . He's a great teammate, but he's also looked upon as one of the leaders in that locker room."
Rockets coach Kevin McHale, who as Timberwolves VP in 1995 drafted Garnett fifth overall out of high school, thinks it's only a matter of time before Garnett strings together a good stretch with the Nets.
"New team, new teammates, new coach," McHale said. "I'll tell you one thing about Kevin: Kevin's going to work his way through it. He's a pro. He's going to grind every single day. He's going to demand a lot out of his teammates."
"He'll find a way to make it better. He's just had a phenomenal career. I was thinking about that [Friday]. The first time I saw him working out in Chicago at the [NBA] predraft workout to where he is today, I mean it's just been an unbelievable ride. And I think he's surpassed everything everybody thought, and we all thought he'd be really great. So he's just had a great career."
Garnett isn't interested in any curtain calls at the moment, though. McHale knows that Garnett at this point in his career wants to turn into a chameleon, working himself into this new environment with camouflage effectiveness in pursuit of another championship before he calls it quits.
"Hey, you've got to keep looking at it and say, 'What can I do to help this team?' " McHale said. "And I can tell you that's what Kevin's doing. Kevin is saying, 'What can I do to help this team?' He's not saying, 'What could I do when I was 24 to help this team?' He's saying, 'What can I do to help this team today?'
"He's going to be honest with his evaluation of what he can do, and he'll figure it out. I think they all will. They have enough guys on that team that will all figure out where they have to sacrifice, where they have to expend more energy, where they have to do things differently. And they'll figure it out."