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April 4, 2009

Holding pattern: Without Garnett, C's stay strong

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.

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