Hollinger: Fading Stars

ESPN's John Hollinger topped Friday's Daily Dime with his take on the Celtics-Magic battle, including the struggles of Boston's veterans, most notably Kevin Garnett:

From Boston's end, Garnett was invisible, and not just with his defense on the final play. He finished with six points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes and twice failed to finish alley-oop plays at the basket. On the crucial play against Lewis he played his customary in-your-grill defense, only he lacked the dexterity to stay in front of him on the drive -- a recurring pattern during Orlando's second-half comeback.

Playing his third game since missing 10 games with what was diagnosed as a hyperextended right knee, Garnett appeared to favor his leg noticeably throughout. Afterward he insisted that nothing was wrong -- "I just played like [expletive]," he said, "pure [expletive]." Few observers believed him -- at least the part about nothing being wrong with his leg.

Garnett's woes are particularly concerning to Celtics fans because they so closely mirror the events of last season. In March, Garnett returned from a knee injury that seemed minor at the time, only to quickly lose effectiveness and end up missing the entire postseason. Ironically, it was a national TV game against Orlando when the extent of the problem became apparent -- he had four points in 17 minutes in a March 25 loss to the Magic and was not seen on the court again. That was his fourth game back from injury; this was his third.

"He was off today, the answer is yes, but I think he's OK [physically]," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Some days you wake up and you just don't have it."

Left unanswered was the question of whether Garnett might find it. While the Celtics and Garnett continue to insist that everything will be fine, after what happened last season they have virtually no credibility in this department. Observers who saw Garnett laboring up and down the court a week after he supposedly had a clean bill of health should feel free to wonder if things are worse than the Celtics have acknowledged publicly -- much as they were a season ago.

Of course, Lewis' drive wouldn't have succeeded except that no help defense came from behind Garnett, despite having had ample time to do so. The closest defender, Wallace, inexplicably stayed next to Dwight Howard at the opposite block rather than rotating down to the baseline to stop Lewis' drive.

Wallace was thought to be the final piece of the puzzle, but he's been noticeably overweight all season and largely content to hang out at the 3-point line rather than using his considerable post skills. Thursday he started blazing from outside, making his first five shots, but finished with only two rebounds in 26 minutes and shot an air ball at the buzzer to end the game. He also moved into the league lead in technical fouls with his 12th after protesting a lack of an and-1 call on a rare post-up basket. We'd present his side of how things went, but he declined to be interviewed.