The Boston Celtics have asked so much of Kevin Garnett this season. They’ve asked him to play with few days off and even fewer days for practice. They’ve asked him to play center on team without a shred of depth at the big-man positions.
And with the Celtics’ best chance to close out their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Atlanta Hawks coming in Game 6 Thursday night at TD Garden, they asked him to carry the team home.
The Celtics asked, and as he’s done all season long, Garnett answered. Garnett scored 28 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked five shots and stole three passes, helping the Celtics edge past the Hawks, 83-80, and clinch the series in six games.
Garnett’s turn-around jumper with 8:41 left in the fourth capped a 7-0 fourth-quarter run that pushed the Celtics’ lead to 74-65. Having already played Garnett for 35 minutes, Doc Rivers subbed out Garnett two minutes later.
The decision proved costly, as the Hawks went on a 10-2 over the next 1:42. Now free of Garnett’s pesky defense, center Al Horford fueled the charge with six points. He finished with 15 points and nine rebounds in a Herculean 46 minutes.
Garnett came back in with 3:51 to go, but even that couldn’t halt Atlanta’s run, as Josh Smith (18 points, nine rebounds) and Horford put the Hawks up 79-76 with two more unanswered baskets.
Needing something from someone other than Garnett, Paul Pierce cut the Hawks’ lead to one with a layup with just over two minutes left. Garnett capped two straight Celtics defensive stops with two emphatic rebounds, then put the Celtic back up 80-79 with another turn-around jumper.
The Celtics crushed the Hawks in the paint, out-scoring them 42-30. They also out-rebounded the Hawks by four, recording more offensive and defensive boards.