Philadelphia, PA – Despite what Atlanta Hawks owner Michael Gearon might think, Kevin Garnett in not a dirty player.
Crafty is a much better word to describe the 17-year veteran.
Garnett is like the basketball equivalent of Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine. When an umpire gave those guys an inch or two off the plate, they kept going further out to see what they could get away with.
Similarly when K.G. sets a pick, he might stick one of those sharp elbows into your side to see what happens. If he gets a positive result, he might place a forearm into your back while wrangling for an offensive rebound, all in an effort to see just how physical he can get until the whistles are finally blown.
By the letter of the law those kinds of things are illegal in the NBA but if NASCAR has taught us anything it's "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'."
Garnett is always trying.
But so is everyone else, The former MVP just does it better than most. And that's why the big man took such exception when Gearon called him a dirty player during the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
"They are old," Gearon said of the Celtics. "I know what happens when you play basketball -- old guys foul. Garnett is the dirtiest guy in the league." .
K.G. responded to that by lighting up Atlanta in Game 6 to clinch that series for Boston.
"First off, I want to say thank you to their owner for giving me some extra gas," the big man said after that game. "My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth actually know what he's talking about -- X's and O's versus his checkbook and the bottom line."
Garnett went on to explain why he and the Celtics are not dirty.
"We're not dirty. We play aggressive. We're not dirty. You have to understand the word dirty in this game is very defined -- going under guys, trying to hurt guys, ill intent," he said. "That's not the way we play basketball. We play very, very respectable to the opponent, the city we're in, the game. We play with a lot of passion, play with force. It's the playoffs. I haven't been here trying to hurt anybody, nor has my team."
Fair enough but Charlie Villanueva and a host of other NBA players can tell you what Garnett is and always has been -- a bully. Like most tormentors, however, he can be backed down.
Garnett is rarely the strongest player on the floor. While a 7-foot, 250-pound man can always be intimidating, he is actually slim for his size, In fact, Garnett's success as an Alpha male comes directly from his personality. He carries himself like a tough guy and that's enough for most players to back off.
Yet, he has always been more bark than bite and the minute Garnett is challenged, he tends to back off. The loud groans, the emphatic faces and all out aggressiveness are replaced by a passive jump shooter, one that is content on playing outside the paint far from the upstart who dares bang with him.
What's shocking in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Philadelphia is who is standing up to the Celtics star. It's not veteran big men Spencer Hawes or Elton Brand -- it's little-used rookie Lavoy Allen.
A Temple product, Allen has made the short move from North Broad Street in Philly to South Broad and amazed his coach Doug Collins with an even-tempered personality. Nothing seems to fluster the kid, not even tangling with a player like K.G on the big stage.
Like most rookies, Allen's wildly inconsistent but through it all, his pulse rate never changes. If you were judging strictly by body language you wouldn't know if Allen was 1-for-10 or 9-for-10.
"He's an amazing guy," Collins said when talking about Allen after his team roared back from an 18-point deficit to even their series with Boston at two games apiece. "There's never a change with him. He'd be the greatest poker player in the world, because you never know whether it's going good or bad for him."
Garnett had been killing the Sixers in the series with Brand or Hawes checking him but he's been pedestrian with Allen in the lineup and finished with just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting and seven turnovers in Friday's 92-83 Sixers' win.
"Lavoy, once again, defensively just did a tremendous job," Collins said.
Allen, the 50th overall pick last year, had eight points and a team-high 10 rebounds, five on the offensive end, and you can see the talent is there. On the offensive end, Allen is athletic enough and strong with a feathery mid- range touch. Meanwhile, he is already a plus-rebounder and solid defender on the low post, often pushing Garnett off his favorite spots in his series while shooting an impressive 53.6 percent from the floor.
"Lavoy is a first round talent, a lottery talent," Collins said. "We always said, if the motor is going, he's that kind of talent. His two best games in college were against Duke and in the tournament against San Diego State so you know he's not afraid of the big stage."
All that said, it's a tall order to expect Allen to outplay Garnett at this point on a consistent basis. He's far too raw and too inexperienced but at 6- foot-9 and 230 pounds, he's actually seems stronger than the veteran and has been yawning at Garnett's attempts at intimidation. And the fact that K.G. can't scare a 23-year-old kid seems to be playing with his psyche a bit.
Maybe Allen's Twitter handle explains it all -- Garnett, the NBA's biggest bully, is playing a kid that labeled himself "BroadStreetBully24."
And real tough guys don't get scared.
"My goal in life is to have one Lavoy Allen day. Just one. Just not give a s%#& about anything," Collins said.
With Game 5 looming in Beantown on Monday, Collins won't be having that day any time soon. As a Type-A personality, the coach will likely lose quite a bit of sleep fretting about how to deal with Garnett.
Well, he doesn't give a you know what about Kevin Garnett.