HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — The next time Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon speaks about Kevin Garnett, he might want to do it in private. Better yet, he might want to keep Garnett’s name out of his mouth after the way Garnett made the Hawks eat his words Thursday night.
Gearon called Garnett the “dirtiest player in the league” on the eve of the biggest game of his team’s season. Garnett’s response was the delivery of an absolutely inspired performance for the raucous home crowd in Game 6 of this first round series.
Garnett was filthy, in a good way, against the Hawks. He filled up the stat sheet, working the Hawks over for a season-high 28 points and 14 rebounds in the Celtics’ 83-80 series-clinching win. He also added five blocks and three steals to carry the Celtics, who advance to face the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The 76ers won a Game 6 of their own, finishing off their upset of the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
Garnett, however, had Gearon on his mind by the time he made it to the interview room after the game.
“Thank you to their owner for giving me some extra gas tonight,” Garnett said. “My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth to know what he’s talking about with X’s and O’s versus checkbooks and bottom lines.”
He didn’t stop there.
“I just found that comment to be a little rude and a little out of hand, and I wanted to address it,” he said of being called the dirtiest player in the league. “Just because you’ve got a lot of money doesn’t mean you can open your mouth.”
The Hawks didn’t go down without a fight. They went on a wild 14-4 run, fueled by Al Horford and Josh Smith, and held a 79-76 lead late on a drive and dunk by Smith. But Paul Pierce scored on a layup to bring the Celtics to within a point and Garnett dropped the g0-ahead jumper over Smith with 30.4 seconds left.
With a chance to tie the game with 2.3 seconds to play, Horford missed the first of two free throws, the Hawks’ first and only miss at the line the entire night. Pierce finished the scoring with a free throw and the Hawks’ Jeff Teague lost the ball out of bounds as the final buzzer sounded.
On a night when Pierce was still struggling with that sore knee and Ray Allen, one of the greatest shooters the league has ever seen, was missing free throws, Garnett served up a flashback effort when the Celtics needed it most.
“Kevin was phenomenal,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He bailed us out. Kevin was fantastic. I was just so proud of our guys on the last play Kevin scored on. Execution, that’s all we talk about. They went to the last option we wanted and then Kevin had to make the shot, and he made the shot. That’s hard to do under pressure.”
Garnett performed like the future Hall of Famer he is. The Celtics did not want to spend their weekend in Atlanta facing a Game 7 if they couldn’t finish the Hawks off at home.
Instead, the Celtics will host the 76ers in their fifth straight appearance in the conference semifinals. And they can thank Garnett for punching that ticket.
“KG was an All-Star tonight. he made some big shots, some timely shots,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “He put them in a great position early. I thought his aggressiveness, he was really fighting for the low block. We tried to disrupt his rhythm t as much as we could. He made some big shots for them, some really, really big shots.”
Why anyone would be surprised that Garnett can produce like this at this stage of his career, he’s just days away from his 36th birthday, is a mystery to Garnett. He said he grinds now the same way he has his entire career.
“You know, I don’t want to come off kind of wrong, but I really go at my craft and take it very seriously,” he said. “I always have, since ’95, since I’ve been able to come into this league, and it’s almost like you guys are shocked. Like this ain’t what I do every day, like this ain’t what I was made for. It comes off as disrespectful at times.”
There will be no more disrespecting KG, certainly not in Atlanta.