EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 4, 2009

Holding pattern: Without Garnett, C's stay strong

Alan Siegel

BOSTON — I wish the Celtics could see into the future. That way, questions about Kevin Garnett's injured right knee would cease. His true availability for the postseason would be revealed and that'd be the end of it.

Clairvoyance, unfortunately, doesn't exist. Not that it would change Boston's mentality. With or without KG, the Celtics are still under his manic influence. They played like it last night, defeating the Atlanta Hawks 104-92 in front of 18,624 at TD Banknorth Garden.¬ 

"Their team, it doesn't matter who plays," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "I'm trying to get our team to that point."

The players, blissfully, seem to be avoiding panic. Do they know something we don't? Possibly. Regardless, they've won three straight and eight of their last nine. Maybe the one-game-at-a-time mentality is more than just a cliché. Or maybe it's the calm before the playoff storm.

"They can deal with it now," Hawks forward Al Horford said of Garnett's absence, "but in the playoffs, if they want to make any kind of run, they need him."

It's heartening that the Celtics are playing like they don't need Garnett. But they do. They know that. We know that. The whole basketball world knows that. That's what makes this final stretch of regular season games so frustrating.

If you're Paul Pierce or Ray Allen, how do you convince yourself that survival is possible minus the third leg of a once-sturdy tripod? Attitude, resolve, guts — all those wonderful platitudes — only go so far.

It reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons, when Mr. Burns coaches the Springfield Nuclear Plant's softball team. If you're a fan of the show, you know the squad is made up of major leaguers like Ken Griffey Jr. and Jose Canseco.

Burns hires a hypnotist, who tells the players to give 110 percent. Their response is classic.

"That's impossible. No one can give more than 100 percent. By definition that is the most anyone can give."

The point? In the Celtics' case, "110 percent effort" is a lofty goal, but it won't necessarily be enough. At least without Garnett in the lineup. But hey, just like everybody else, I'm speculating.

And really, speculating is pointless. I complained about the very subject already this week.

Instead let's focus on what's tangible. Like the Celtics' performance against the Hawks, who despite laying an egg last night, currently sit in fourth place (43-33) in the Eastern Conference.

Let's start with center Kendrick Perkins (12 points, 10 rebounds, 7 blocks). He nearly had a triple-double.

"He's tremendous," said Pierce, who scored a team-high 21 points. "He definitely gets my vote on the all-defensive team. I can't think of anybody in the league who's done a better job than he's done this year, especially with Kevin being out."

Glen "Big Baby" Davis (19 points) and Rajon Rondo (20 points, 6 assists) were both sharp. The C's also held Atlanta, a team that took the Celtics to seven games in the first round of the playoffs last spring, to 35.6 percent shooting.

"We know what we have to do," Davis said. "We just have to go out and do it."

Boston's bench, which has been extended due to injuries to Garnett, Leon Powe and Brian Scalabrine, also got into the act. Even Mikki Moore (9 points, 6 rebounds) and Stephon Marbury (4 assists, 2 steals, 5 rebounds) got into the act.

"Their (backups) are at that level now if they play two, three minutes, they try to make the most of those two or three minutes to help the team win," Woodson said. "That's what winning does for a franchise."

Apparently it even makes Marbury a contributor. Scary.

The win helped Boston (58-19), which sits in second place in the East, maintain its lead over third-place Orlando 56-19. The Magic crushed first-place Cleveland 116-87.

"If we get home court (throughout the playoffs) so be it," Pierce said. "If not, we have to go through Cleveland. ... That's the way it is."

Now it's time for a break. The Celtics are off until Wednesday, when they take on New Jersey.

"A lot of teams have eight, nine games left where we only have five," Pierce said. "To have four days off at this point in the season is great for us."

Pierce can't see the future. Neither can Rivers. But at this point, both have the same wish.

"Hopefully we can get Kevin back practicing, not this week but right after that," Rivers said. "That'd be great."