The Celtics beat the Hawks 98-88 tonight, and the most intriguing storyline was KG's performance. Garnett finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds, both highs since his return eight games ago, but the stats are scant evidence as to KG's profound effect on this game. Simply put, KG finally looked to be his old self. This is probably more of a relief than we care to admit.
Garnett has constantly talked about working off his rust since he came back two weeks ago, but the murmurs of KG's injury being more serious than he let on seemed to get more validated with each adequate game Garnett submitted. Even in good games like against Cleveland last week, KG seemed too content settling into things, on both sides of the ball. A sense of forcefulness was lacking. But tonight it was all there.
The Hawks are long and extremely athletic up front with Josh Smith, Horford, Childress and Marvin Williams. This has surprisingly made Atlanta a good defensive club. They close lanes quickly and block shots that you usually don't think twice about putting up. Tonight the Hawks negated guards driving to the hoop; totally silencing Rondo from scoring in the paint. And in this hostile setting KG went to work. Instead of only taking fall aways or sixteen footers, KG aggressively worked the inside by consistently heading towards the rim. He fought hard to control position on the block. It was the KG we all wanted to see - initiating offense instead of just submitting to the flow; and it perfectly set the tone for the game.
Defensively KG also seemed to play at a more perturbed level than recent showings; he limited Smith to just 8 of 22 shooting, and the Hawks as a team shot only 39.5%. It was the kind of performance we are accustomed to from the Celtics, and the main reason was Garnett's incomparable intensity was back in full form.
That is not to say KG did it alone. Pierce quietly poured in thirty, and took the offense on his shoulders in the third quarter when such an authority was called for. Also helping the C's escape from the rash of turnovers in the first half was Perk, who had a less showy game than Friday's, but no less effective. His final line of 11 points, 12 boards, 6 assists and 4 blocks was well deserved. His timing was good as well, for the C's got very little out of their bench tonight, which can work out just fine when all your starters play well.
As for analyzing the Hawks' big picture - well, it's the usual muddle. If this team does make the playoffs, and they should based on their talent, they will scare nobody. There is a reason their coach is on the hot seat. Atlanta lacks substance, and bringing in Bibby is not going to solve the problem. With the makeup of this team and a transition-minded coach you could be looking at one of the more entertaining teams on Earth. Unfortunately there is little reason to think we will ever get to see such things happen.