Danny Ainge won baseball’s trade deadline on this very day ten years ago by trading for superstar Kevin Garnett, which was the most crucial move in pointing the Boston Celtics franchise back towards their glory days.
Because of this anniversary, let’s appreciate The Big Ticket!
A lot of the more memorable “clutch” moments during the Garnett-era came as game winning shots from the hands of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. You remember these moments because you see them over and over again on highlight reels today, allowing you to think back and remember watching that shot fall through the bottom of the net.
We live in a world now where hitting “the shot” seems to means so much and if a star player even dare pass up a contested jumper so a teammate can get a better look, he is very unfairly ridiculed for making the smart basketball decision. One thing that made Kevin Garnett so special – and at times a little underappreciated – was the fact that he redefined what “clutch” was and constantly made game winning plays on the other end of the floor as the league was quickly shifting towards an offensive-era of basketball.
Oddly, the moment I started to have complete faith in Garnett leading this team to a title was in a late January win against a 7-24 Minnesota Timberwolves squad. The basketball world was locked into this one as it was Garnett’s first game against his old franchise, although this one was at the TD Banknorth Garden and his return to the Twin Cities was still two weeks away.
Boston came out and was terrible that night. They had just blown a double-digit lead against the Toronto Raptors two days earlier and following that up with a home loss against one of the worst teams in the NBA would have been a really bad look for a team that had otherwise been as advertised all season long.
All the former Celtics showed up for this one. Sebastian Telfair led the Timberwolves with 18 points, Al Jefferson scored 15, Ryan Gomes had 13 of his own and even Gerald Green led all bench scorers that night with nine points. The worst former Celtics playing for the other team was weirdly the best one – and somebody who wasn’t involved in the Garnett trade – as three time All-Star Antoine Walker scored just three points off the bench in what turned out to be his final career game in Boston.
The game was a back-and-fourth slugfest from the opening tip and with just a few seconds left, the Celtics found themselves up 87-86 and Minnesota was gearing up to take the final shot. That’s when my favorite Kevin Garnett play of all time happened.
It’s one of those games that you knew you didn’t deserve to win; Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn make that perfectly clear in that clip you hopefully just watched. The best team in the NBA playing at home against a team that was 7-34 heading into play shouldn’t have the contest come down to the final possession with both sides scoring under 90 points, that’s just inexcusable.
You know who gave them the lead right before this play? Kendrick Perkins. You know who led them in scoring that night? Kendrick Perkins. Paul Pierce missed two shots in the final 90 seconds of this game and was also called for a traveling violation. Kevin Garnett also missed a put back layup attempt after one of Pierce’s misses.
Look, I love Kendrick Perkins. But all that should tell you how weird a game this one was. His go-ahead bucket? A put back off a Ray Allen miss. That was literally this game in a nutshell, the “Big Three” not doing enough with an unlikely hero coming through.
But Garnett erased an entire bad game by snuffing out his former team’s torch and allowing fans everywhere to breathe a sigh of relief. And when the clock struck zero, there he was at center court screaming and making sure the entire world knew the front of his jersey said “CELTICS” in beautiful green letters. That’s the moment I knew he was really ours, that’s when I knew he was taking us places.
Turns out Garnett had a knack for that sort of thing. In 2011 he made an even more impressive game winning steal to knock off the Orlando Magic in a nationally televised Martin Luther King Day rematch of the previous year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
Both of those plays were very exciting and it’s why everybody loved Kevin Garnett in Boston. The ability to win a game on the defensive end is something he had his entire career…it wasn’t as funny when he did it AGAINST the Celtics in his first game back at the TD Garden after getting traded to the Brooklyn Nets.