Garnett steps on the gas

BOSTON -- After missing the past 10 games with a hyperextended right knee, how did Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett sum up his return to the court Friday? One of the greatest players in NBA history compared himself to one of the worst automobiles of all time.

"The old '76 Pinto got banged up against the wall a little bit," joked Garnett on the heels of the Boston Celtics' 98-95 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers at the TD Garden. "You just keep hitting the gas and it keeps going."

The Pinto -- a Ford product that was much maligned due to its unreliability and safety concerns -- is probably the last thing Celtics fans want Garnett comparing himself to, but his point is received. Despite the bumps and bruises that have limited him the past two seasons, Garnett just keeps on plugging away.

After being kicked in his surgically repaired knee against Golden State on Dec. 28 and missing more than three weeks of action, Garnett returned Friday to register 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting with four rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 30 minutes of action.

"I felt good out there," Garnett said. "Confident. Strong. I got banged a couple times. That's part of the game, you get roughed up."

Garnett, wearing an oversized rubber brace that covered much of his right leg, was limited in part due to foul trouble, but his presence alone provided a spark for a Boston team that had lost three straight and eight of its past 12 overall.

Coach Doc Rivers made a concerted effort to avoid putting too much of the offensive load on Garnett, allowing him to ease back into the flow of the game. But he gave rave reviews of Garnett's performance, particularly on the defensive end.

"He looked great," Rivers said. "He looked tentative as far as offense -- his rhythm was off -- but he got great shots, too. I really tried to stay away from him as far as in the post, and even the jump shot, because when you miss the games that he missed you know your touch is going to be a little bit off. But overall, defensively, he looked terrific. Just absolutely terrific."

Garnett acknowledged his timing was off, and that drove down his rebounding numbers. But he tried to make up for it wherever he could, including tirelessly chasing Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge, nine years his junior, for much of the game.

"It's amazing because, if you look at all the superstars around the league, [Garnett] does all the things that those superstars don't do,"
said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "The way he talks on defense, the way he helps everybody on the court on defense, how he sets screens.
Those things are really overlooked throughout the league and, being a superstar, we could give him the ball every play down the court. But he's so selfless; one of the most unselfish to ever play the game. All those little things add up."

Garnett will be examined by trainers Saturday before the team's practice to ensure there were no negative effects from his first game back. But barring a setback, he will move forward without restrictions.

After Friday's game, Garnett was his own biggest critic.

"It felt good, man, I thought I had some decent energy," he said.

"I really wasn't worrying about my wind. When we had overtime, I thought about it a little bit. I was mad that I was in foul trouble. You don't really help your team when you're doing things like that.

"But for the most part, man, I kept asking Paul, kept asking Ray, kept asking Rondo, and the other guards, how were my shows [on Portland's picks] and things like that. My timing's off a little bit as far as rebounding, but you know I'll get that. That's all watching film and stuff."

After making the Pinto reference, Garnett asked Pierce if he had ever owned one. Pierce laughed and noted that the car was discontinued long ago. But it was no accident that Garnett referenced the 1976 model.
After all, that's his birth year.

And after his comparison Friday night, it's clear there's still one 1976 Pinto on the road to recovery.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter and send a question for his next mailbag.