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That loving feeling

03.23.09 at 11:12 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo made eye contact with Kevin Garnett. Kevin Garnett gave it back. The alley-oop was coming. And it was good. When Garnett came back down to terra firma he had a huge grin on his face. It’s been a long time. A real long time, and it was the emphatic exclamation on Garnett’s long-awaited return to the Garden floor.

February 8 was the date of Garnett’s last game in home whites and he made the most of his allotted 18 minutes against the Clippers. (Click here for a recap). In all he was a perfect 5-for-5 with 12 points and two rebounds, but his game meant a lot more than a dozen points and a couple of boards.

“The reason I don’t sit on the bench is I might jump out there in street clothes and start hooping,” Garnett said. “One of the hard things for me is sitting down. It was very difficult to sit out, but when I’m out there I try bring as much havoc as I can.”

The alley-oop may have sealed it, but the full KG Experience was on display in the minutes leading up to the dunk. In a sleepy atmosphere against a team with nothing to lose, the Celtics had put themselves in a precarious position. Trailing 55-54, Garnett went into the post against Zach Randolph and demanded the ball as if Randolph was Anderson Varejao and this was Game 7 against the Cavs. He did his patented drop-step in the lane and popped home a short jumper.

Then came the alley-oop. Then another defensive stop and another basket. This was the tidal wave of a run that the Celtics used to put together so effortlessly. Doc Rivers had to call a timeout to stop things and get Garnett out of the game as his minutes were all used up, but a funny thing happened after that. The Celtics kept rolling and soon the rout was on.

“Everything we do offensively and defensively,” Paul Pierce said. “You can see the last couple of games. We’re passing the ball, we’re defending at a high level. The communication’s there. We have such great chemistry with out starting five. With him out there, we’re like one.”

Garnett’s impact, especially on the defensive end, has been well-documented. The same is true for the intangible and tangible benefit of having him on the floor calling out screens, holding everyone accountable, being half-insane. This is all true, but the hidden value of Kevin Garnett on a basketball floor is what happens when he is simply on the court.

“Teams respect him even if he doesn’t shoot the ball,” Ray Allen said. “Rondo has bigger gaps (to drive). His man doesn’t help as much. Glen (Davis) has been knocking down that shot. He’s been playing well. As a young player in this league you have to do that over and over again to get teams to give you that respect. Kevin obviously has that respect and when he’s out there people automatically from the word go are going to play him. You can see the effect with myself and Paul.”

The key to the Celtics offense is not Pierce’s individual brilliance, Allen’s shooting or Rondo’s ability to break down defenses. The key is the spacing, ball movement and, most importantly, the trust to pass and be in the right spots.

“He’s unselfish to a fault, as well all know, at times,” Rivers said. “You sometimes wants him to shoot the ball but he’s always looking to pass. It’s amazing how hard guys cut when he gets the ball in the post because they might get the ball back.”

The Celtics are being careful with Garnett. They waited almost a month before bringing him back and they are not going to blow him out for a game in March against the Clippers. They won’t even do it Wednesday when they go to Orlando for a game that may well determine how many rounds of homecourt advantage they wind up with in the playoffs. They won’t do it because he is way too important to mess around with at the end of the regular season.

At the end of their time with the press following the game, Garnett and Pierce engaged in a little back-and-forth as they tend to do from time to time. It’s been a long time since the mood was that playful in these things as Pierce has had to carry the burden on the floor and off it as well.

“You watched me when you were at Kansas,” Garnett teased Pierce. “Paul Pierce wanted to come out of high school. Don’t let him fool you.”

“The only reason I didn’t,” Pierce countered. “Was because I didn’t know you could do that.”

It was a small thing and not really all that important in the grand scheme of things, but it was like the old days again.

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File this one away for future reference. Doc likes the combination of Stephon Marbury, Eddie House and Ray Allen, which he used to open the fourth quarter. It goes against his better instincts to have a lineup that small play together, but Rivers said the numbers show that it is an effective combination.

Here’s another reason why he likes the trio. It’s an effective way to give Paul Pierce a breather. Perhaps Allen can be the long sought-after backup three man.

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