You know the saying, "Go hard or go home?" Well, someone should tell Kevin Garnett that it isn't a permanent decision. He can eventually go home.
The Celtics went through an intense practice at their workout facility in Waltham on Thursday, a day after a sloppy loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, and Delonte West commented about Kevin Garnett's work ethic and intensity during a simple off-day practice. Garnett refused to leave the floor and the coaching staff almost had to drag him off.
ESPN wasn't at the practice facility on Thursday, but they were at the Celtics' practice the day after the All-Star Game and it apparently resembled what happened in Waltham.
When assistant Lawrence Frank begins a walk-through of the Golden State offense, Garnett interjects, "Why we walkin' through it? The Warriors ain't gonna be walkin' through it!" Just like that, it's starters versus subs, and even the stars, following the lead of their motivational big man, go all-out. Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen make this a veteran squad, and veteran squads understand how quickly championship windows can close.
In the middle of the Celtics' scrimmage, head coach Doc Rivers toots his whistle and tells Garnett to take a blow. Turkish big man Semih Erden reluctantly tags out KG. Reluctantly, because this minor event can resemble going to the dentist: It's something you do only when you have to. Erden proceeds to allow a crisp pass to fly off his hands and out of bounds.
Meanwhile, rather than take a seat or a swig, Garnett, who is 34, but has played more minutes than all but 13 players in NBA history, breaks into wind sprints on the sideline. Up. Back. Up. Back. Up. Back. Touching the end line every time, like a ninth-grader trying to make JV. "Never seen another NBA player do that," says Phil Galvin, the facility's basketball director. And Galvin has seen a lot: Not only is the Olympic Club the oldest such facility in the country, it's where most NBA teams practice when they drop into the Bay Area.
As the pink glow of sunset pours through the 40-foot-high window along the baseline, Garnett continues to run. Up. Back. Up. Back. Sweat rains off his dome. After 10 round-trips, each one all out, Rivers has seen enough. He motions his star back onto the court. As the 6'11" power forward passes by his coach, he says, "I hate f--ing sittin' out, Doc! Let's go!" Rubbernecking Sky Gym staffers watch from the sideline, mouths agape.
This is why I love KG more than just about any other Celtic that I've watched in my entire life. This isn't fun and games for him at this point. His opportunity to win another ring is shrinking rapidly, so why wouldn't he be pushing himself at a somewhat meaningless practice? The intensity we see out of him on the floor during games apparently has nothing on what happens behind closed doors. When you can get Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, two 30-something, future Hall of Famers, to follow your lead and make a practice feel like the final five minutes in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, you're doing something right.
This probably answers the question as to why Garnett has such a hard time watching his team go to battle when he's injured and why he refuses to watch the game from the bench. We all remember the scenes from the 2009 playoffs as KG was screaming, slobbering and sniffing and anyone and everyone that would give him the time of day in his Armani suit. He hates not being out there, even during the struggles, with his team, his friends, his family. It probably kills him more than the actually injury does. He wants the competition. He needs the competition.
Maybe this practice that the Celtics had yesterday is something that they desperately needed. Maybe it's something that the rest of the team, especially the guys that haven't been here that long, can look at and say, "Are we going that hard 24/7? Can I push myself a little harder?" The emotional, inspirational leader is setting the tone and showing everyone the work that needs to be done in order to win an NBA championship. Just because you play for the Boston Celtics, the greatest franchise in the history of the sport, and have one of the best rosters in the NBA doesn't mean you're entitled to anything. It means that you have a target on your back and you need to work twice as hard to get what you want.
If I was on that team and witnessed all of this, I would run through a brick wall for Kevin Garnett.