WALTHAM, Mass. - The Big Three is down to Two.
Celtics star Kevin Garnett, the centerpiece of Boston's 2008championship and a key to its hopes of a repeat, could miss theplayoffs because of a knee injury that has limited him to fourgames over the final two months of the season.
"It's not official that he's out for the entire playoffs, butit's official as far as I'm concerned," Rivers said beforepractice at the team's workout facility. "I just don't see how. Ihope I'm wrong, but I just don't see it."
Garnett has been the Celtics' inspirational leader since joiningthem in a 2007 trade that completed the new Big Three and propelledthe franchise to its record 17th NBA title. He averaged 15.8 and8.5 rebounds per game for the defending champions this season.
"I'm devastated for him," Celtics guard Ray Allen said. "Thisis the time of year you've been waiting for."
Garnett injured his right knee Feb. 19 and missed the next 13games before returning for four and playing a total of 66 minutes,18 seconds. With the Celtics assured of a high playoff berth,Rivers then held Garnett out with an eye toward bringing him backfor the last three games of the regular season; that became thelast two, then the last one, but he never made it back.
Rivers said Thursday he watched Garnett run at the team'spractice facility and said he had to shut him down after 20 minutesbecause his leg was locking up. Rivers knew he made the right callwhen Garnett didn't put up a fight.
"He's done everything he could do to get back on the floor,"the coach said. "You could tell he was trying to mask that therewas pain."
Boston was 18-7 without Garnett this year and finished theseason 62-20 -- second in the Eastern Conference, but not goodenough to secure the home-court advantage that proved crucial inlast year's title run. Should the Celtics meet the Cavaliers in theconference finals, they would open the series in Cleveland; the LosAngeles Lakers also would have home-court in a potential NBA finalsmatchup.
But, without Garnett, what had seemed like an easy road throughthe early rounds has gotten more difficult.
"If you get to the last game and hoist another banner, theadversity makes it that much sweeter," Allen said. "We've got tofind that formula. So we look forward to it."
Garnett was at the team's practice facility on Thursday but didnot want to talk to reporters, Rivers said.
Though Garnett did not appear at games while he was recuperatingin the regular season, he is expected to travel with the team andsit on the bench.
"He's the unquestioned leader of the ballclub. He can help usjust by being on the bench," forward Paul Pierce said. "The typeof competitiveness that he has, I'm sure it's eating at him."
Garnett originally got hurt against the Utah Jazz, and aftermissing a month he returned with his playing time limited. Butafter four games, he aggravated the injury against Orlando whilejumping for a rebound; there was no contact with any other players.
Rivers said he was concerned initially because injuries wherethere is no contact sometimes are more serious than first expected.But he was encouraged by the progress Garnett had been making.
"I'm surprised because he looked so good last week," Riverssaid.
Rivers said Garnett has a bone spur in the knee that will needsurgery after the playoffs, but that it is not related to thestrained tendon that is bothering him now. There was nothing theCeltics could have done differently in treating the injury, thecoach said.
"We are confident that he is going to be absolutely fine, 100percent, over the long term," Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said."The short term is much less clear at this point."