NEW YORK -- As important as his defense is for the Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett's offense received the most attention following Boston's 85-78 loss in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks.
Over 36:36 of floor time, Garnett finished with just eight points on 4-of-12 shooting, never fully establishing the kind of rhythm that can make him a difference-maker for Boston on that end of the floor.
Ever since Garnett arrived in Boston, Celtics coach Doc Rivers has stressed the importance of establishing Garnett on offense early in postseason games. Rivers often points out how crucial rhythm is to Garnett's game, noting that he hasn't seen a player so reliant on being in rhythm since he played alongside Patrick Ewing two decades ago.
The general consensus following Game 1 was that Garnett didn't find the rhythm he needed, and his lack of involvement on offense fed into the Celtics' woes as a team, including lack of ball movement and poor spacing. Heading into Game 2, the Celtics believe Garnett needs more touches early, plain and simple.
"We're trying to establish him early," Paul Pierce said. "I don't think we really did that last game. Usually, at the start of the game we try to get him the ball. Usually, the first four or five possessions we want to get it to him, whether he's shooting the ball or making a play. We've got to establish him early because, usually, at the end of the day, it works out for us.
"We get off to a good offensive rhythm when he's touching the ball and we're moving it, and that's what we've got to do if we don't want to continue to struggle on the offensive end. And also early in the fourth quarter, we've got to do the same thing like we did when we start the game -- get the ball to him."
The Celtics likely will feed Garnett in the post early, though that doesn't mean he won't spend time outside the lane as the game progresses. Garnett is one of Boston's best facilitators, and his presence on the perimeter can give way to his own offense as well as easier looks for his teammates. In Game 1, Garnett found a perfect balance, at least statistically speaking: Six of his field goal attempts came in the paint and six came outside of it. But it was the lack of consistency in when Garnett received the ball that gave way to his lackluster night.
Garnett admitted he had limited opportunities in Game 1, but vowed to be more aggressive in Game 2.
“I thought, from an offensive standpoint, I didn’t have a lot of different opportunities," Garnett said. "Obviously, I had shots and stuff. Some went down, some didn’t. But I try not to let that predicate things or my level of play. I thought I moved the ball very well, got other guys open, was able to rebound, obviously, trying to be as much of a force as I can on defense. In Game 2, I’d like to be a little more aggressive, obviously, but being consistent with the overall game.”
Since Garnett has been in Boston, he's never averaged fewer than 13.1 field goal attempts per game for a playoff run. In 20 playoff games last season, Garnett averaged 16 shots per game.
Getting a more aggressive performance from Garnett has to be a teamwide effort, according to Rivers. The coach noted that sloppy entry passes and poor spacing in Game 1 directly hampered Garnett's effectiveness. And it'll take more than just getting Garnett the ball for Boston to have success. The Celtics will need to work to get him in the best spots possible to counteract what New York will try to do defensively.
"He could have gotten himself in better spots. That’s, again, on us too," Rivers said. "So it’s never one thing. It’s both. We have to create (better shots) for him. Kevin can’t dribble and pass it to himself. So we have to create that for him. Listen, (the Knicks) are still very good defensively. They trap, they get down there. Even if you get him too deep, they are still coming."
But the Celtics are hoping that establishing Garnett early will give them a clear advantage over anything New York tries to do on defense. Then maybe after Game 2, Garnett's offense will be getting attention for more preferable reasons.