WALTHAM — The thought of Kevin Garnett sitting on the Celtics bench, in a suit instead of shorts, had Kendrick Perkins in a pensive mood.
"It messes up his head," he said from his courtside chair at practice. "He can't take it."
Garnett's psyche is only one of the casualties caused by his swollen right knee, which we learned yesterday will likely keep him out of action for the entire postseason.
"I rule him out for the playoffs," coach Doc Rivers said of Garnett, who's suffering from a strained tendon. "I hope I'm wrong."
So that's it. After a month of speculation, the 6-foot-11 forward, the heart of the defending champs, is gone. The mood at Sports Authority Training Center was predictably subdued in the aftermath of the announcement, which came during Rivers' morning interview on WEEI. The coach, who's as kind to the media as any public figure in Boston, sounded defiant at times.
"This isn't a concession speech from us," Rivers said before adding, "We can beat anyone, anywhere, with what we have."
That, of course, is debatable, what with top seed Cleveland, led by LeBron James, storming to a 66-16 record. Boston did go 18-7 without Garnett. But that statistic doesn't really do the man justice.
"He's the unquestioned leader of the ballclub," Paul Pierce said.
Now what? Even without Garnett, the Celtics aren't going to totally melt under the playoff lights. But I think it's time to temper expectations. When Tom Brady went down last September, even the most delusional of us (including me for a while) believed the Patriots would continue to roll. But ultimately, Matt Cassel — who had a great year, considering the circumstances — just didn't have enough to push the secondary-deprived Pats into the playoffs.
This isn't to make excuses for the Celtics, it's just reality. They'll probably still pound the Bulls in Round 1. It's the next wave of opponents that scare me.
They could meet the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard in the East semis. Then the Cavaliers could be on tap in the East finals. If Boston survives it will be a storm-battered ship, bruised and sore and fortunate to be moving on.
Miracles are possible, but man, the way LeBron is playing right now, Garnett's presence may not have even been enough to save the Green.
KG must be going through hell right now. He's probably bouncing around his house like a big rubber ball. Unlike a lot of athletes, Garnett bears his soul on a nightly basis.
That's what makes this so painful for fans. We can see the passion he brings to the floor.
He knows how much his presence means to the city. So if he's angry, then well, he deserves to be.
"He's here, but he doesn't want to come out," said Rivers, who indicated that Garnett will likely have surgery on his right knee to remove bone spurs — a different injury from the one currently sidelining him — during the offseason. "He doesn't want to talk to anybody."
Watching Garnett test the knee early yesterday made Doc wince.
"He just couldn't run," Rivers said. "And you saw his face, you saw him (try to) mask like there was no pain, which he couldn't do."
He can, however, help his teammates. Rivers said Garnett will be on the bench during the playoffs.
Said Rivers: "Let's just hope he doesn't get a technical."
Garnett's influence, however, can only go so far. Perkins, who will try his best to anchor Boston's defense in KG's absence, is well aware of that fact.
"At the end of the day," he said quietly, "you gotta lace 'em up (yourself)."
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