LOS ANGELES -- They were utterly benign remarks. They were honest, thoughtful, articulate, measured and, most of all, accurate. Pau Gasol said Kevin Garnett has lost some of his explosiveness. Gasol also said that everyone slows down over time. Gasol also praised Garnett, calling him "a terrific player, a terrific competitor."
That constitutes trash talk/bulletin board material now?
Apparently it does, at least in the small but active brains of some media members who tried to get Garnett to respond to Gasol's supposed "inflammatory" comments on Friday. Garnett said he was "not going to get caught up with Pau talking about whatever. I'm not going to play those games. I'm going to stick to my guns and not take any of this [expletive] that's going on. You know what I mean?"
Here's what got everyone's blood boiling, figuratively. Gasol was asked how much Garnett's game has changed over the years.
"On Kevin's part, he's lost a little of his explosiveness," Gasol said. "He's more of a jump shooter now, you could say, comes off the lane. Before, he had a really, really quick first step and was getting to the lane and was more aggressive then. Time passes and we all suffer it one way or another, but he is still a terrific player, a terrific competitor and he's going to bring everything he's got. You can count on that."
Not quite the same thing as Cedric Maxwell mocking Bernard King in 1984, adding that in no way was "the b---- going to score 40 on me." But in the politically correct era in which we live, an honest assessment of an opponent, warts and all, amounts to calumny or slander.
What made Gasol/Garnett a storyline after Game 1 was the former's total dominance of the latter. Gasol was fluid, active and aggressive, the unquestioned star of the game, with 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots in the Lakers' 102-89 whuppin' of the Celtics on Thursday night.
Garnett? He was Mikki Moore. Through three quarters, the 6-foot-11 Garnett had one rebound. One. He finished with four, but two of those were off his own misses, one of which was an uncontested dunk/layup that he bungled. He looked like the Kevin Garnett we saw a lot of in the regular season, the one who got faked out by Ersan Ilyasova or beaten off the dribble by Andray Blatche. He looked nothing like the Kevin Garnett who averaged 19 points and 8 rebounds against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The big unknown -- and for the Celtics, it is a big unknown -- is whether the Game 1 Garnett is, for whatever reason, the real Garnett. If it is, the Celtics are doomed. He really didn't have a great series in the conference finals against Orlando -- 14 points and 12 rebounds in the Game 4 loss was his high point -- and he was, like many of his teammates, awful in Game 1 against L.A.
But to hear the talk Friday, both sides expect the terrifying, menacing, lane-clogging, constantly talking and more effective Garnett to make his NBA Finals debut in Game 2.
He had better.
There's no question as to the will. The question is what he has left to give.
"I expect him and the whole team to be more aggressive," Gasol said. "And with a sense of urgency, understanding the importance of Game 2. But I expect us to be more aggressive and be ready for the type of intensity they might bring."
Said Garnett, "I've got to be in control, be more aggressive. What I do well is make plays for other guys, bring a sense of making sure guys are communicating defensively, bringing a solid presence to that end, and I did none of those things [in Game 1]."
In the aftermath of the opener, Garnett said he played "like horse-[bleep]." He was not a happy man. When asked if Garnett would even talk to the media after Game 1, a Celtics public relations official said, "I don't know. When he's like that, I don't go near him."
Doc Rivers, the Celtics' head coach, said he thought Garnett was too "hyped up" for the series opener and wasn't able to slow himself down and get any kind of rhythm or tempo. But Rivers also acknowledged the obvious. His most important player stunk.
"He didn't have a great game," Rivers said of Garnett. "But he's fine healthwise and all that. With our team, whenever we don't play well, it always comes down to either health or age. It's usually we just don't play well. I thought it was more of that.
"He had one of those nights," Rivers added. "We all have them. We're just not used to seeing him have them unless there's something wrong. But he's fine. I can guarantee you that."
He just can't do the things he used to do when he was younger, quicker and more agile. That's nature. The Celtics can only hope he is able to do what he did two weeks ago against the Cavaliers. They can live with Kobe Bryant getting 30. They cannot live with Gasol overpowering their best defensive player and turning him into a cipher.
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.