Kevin Garnett and the evolution of victory

Kevin Garnett
h/t @SBNation
Kevin Garnett
h/t @SBNation

Kevin Garnett: 54 G, 54 GS, 20.5 MPG, 6.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.80 SPG, 0.74 BPG, .441 FG% .000 3P%, .809 FT%, 13.35 PER, 1.5 EWA

grade-c-plusI’ll never forget that moment, when Kevin Garnett dove on the floor for a loose ball like he was shot out of a faulty cannon, leapt up, and roared to the delight of the crowd. He had won the battle, one of the few Garnett wins these days, and it meant the world to him.

There were times this season when watching Kevin Garnett was a painful experience. At 37, he disintegrated in slow motion, devolving into a creaky shell of the dominant two-way force that led terrible supporting casts in Minnesota to the playoffs and the Celtics to an NBA championship. There were glimpses of that man, hitting jumpers or neutralizing pick-and-rolls, which made it all the more depressing when Garnett fumbled an easy pass or missed an open layup.

The frustration mounted some days for Garnett, one of the most intense basketball players the world has ever seen, and that’s what made that moment above so compelling.

Once upon a time, dunking on an opponent or winning a series would elicit that type of emotion from Kevin Garnett. But now, a raw, declining Garnett has to grab any moment he can, even if it’s just picking up a loose ball in the backcourt to preserve possession, and squeeze the living hell out of it. He held that ball like it was all he had, because in that moment, it’s all he had. He is no longer the superstar that can dominate a game, but a role player, a role he’s embraced. It was heartwarming and depressing all at once, to watch a player with such raw emotion reduced to the smallest of victories.

He wasn’t useless on the floor, for what it’s worth. The team’s defense was at its best with Garnett at center, roaming the paint and deterring drives to the basket. Garnett is one of the league’s great communicators, and you could often hear him yell “ICE! ICE!” (a particular pick-and-roll coverage) from hundreds of feet away in a crowded arena. He instilled a defensive culture the Nets have never had, and on the nights he hit his patented 18-footer, he looked like he had just enough to make a significant on-court impact.

He was also an incredible person to listen to speak. Media members waited well after the 45-minute allotment just to see what Kevin Garnett might say next. He compared his jump shot to a booty call, death to stagnation, and writing an article to drinking a gallon of milk. He was at times incredibly thoughtful and dizzying, and imparted wisdom in a way that made you feel enlightened, even if you listened back and had no idea what he was talking about.

Garnett’s possible impending retirement is one of Brooklyn’s major offseason storylines. It’s tough to imagine him walking away from $12 million. (Would you?) But Garnett’s also got 55,000 minutes in the regular season and playoffs on his odometer, and might not want to play again if he continues a decline this precipitous.

In one sense, Kevin Garnett didn’t bring what the Nets traded for. But in another, he did everything that was asked of him and more, night in and night out.

Reading of the year: For a moment, Kevin Garnett was the man again