Kevin Garnett remains heart and soul of Nets
Kevin Garnett turns 38 this month. By any objective measure, he is running on fumes at this point of a career that began five months after a fellow No. 2, Derek Jeter, debuted for the Yankees.
But leaving it at that is selling the old hoops warrior short, as he demonstrated again Friday night by proving he is not quite done yet, even after two consecutive games in which his coach had little or no use for him down the stretch.
If Deron Williams was the star of the Nets' Game 6 victory over the Raptors, Garnett was its soul, channeling the emotion and leadership for which the franchise paid dearly to land him.
First, a quick look back: In Game 4, coach Jason Kidd curiously yanked Garnett for Mason Plumlee with 4:43 left, then reinserted him 2:18 later in an 87-79 loss.
In Game 5, Garnett did not play at all in the fourth quarter of a 115-113 defeat.
On both occasions he refused to complain or second-guess Kidd. Then came Game 6, in which he played nearly 27 minutes and contributed 13 points (shooting 5-for-7), five rebounds and two blocked shots in the Nets' 97-83 win.
Garnett played more than seven minutes in the final quarter, during which he made a layup after the Raptors cut a 26-point margin to 11, then hit an 11-foot turnaround jumper after Toronto drew within 10.
In between those baskets, he tangled with Raptors instigator Tyler Hansbrough and emerged smiling, pulling his jersey over his head and exchanging fist bumps and high-fives with everyone on the bench while Jack Armstrong, the analyst for Canada's TSN coverage, said simply, "What a jerk."
So, yes, Mr. Garnett was making his presence known, as usual.
Garnett also offered sparks in Game 1, hitting a big basket before Paul Pierce took over, and in Game 3, when he dived for a loose ball as if he were 23, came up with it and gestured to the crowd to rile up fans in Brooklyn.
If this sort of role-player stuff seems a bit modest for a guy making more than $12 million this season and due $12 million more next season, that is because it is. But as long as he is here, Garnett is doing what he can.
Kidd said Friday that he appreciates it, even if he does use him on a limited, sometimes sporadic basis.
"KG was great," he said. "He's always been great for us, and when you have a guy like that, that you can lean on down the stretch when things go a little stagnant, he stepped up and made a big shot and got rebounds. That's who he is. He's a future Hall of Famer and loves the situation and he responded."
As Garnett put it, "I had to go into the vintage bag of tricks."
When someone asked Joe Johnson late Friday to name his most vocal teammate, he did not hesitate.
"KG is always the most vocal," he said. "It's constant and very consistent. Every night he's talking to guys, getting guys in the right spot."
If the Nets lose Game 7 Sunday, they will face many complicated questions, among them whether Williams should remain the player around whom the roster theoretically is built, whether to re-sign Pierce and what to do about Garnett.
Will he retire, perhaps after negotiating a buyout, or carry on as best he can for another season of limited minutes and maximum leadership?
It is a subplot that adds to the Game 7 drama. This could well be the last stand of KG.
If so, let's hope he goes out not on the bench, as he did in the fourth quarter of his last visit here, but rather as the center of attention, as he was in the heart of Brooklyn Friday night.