Time for the Big Ticket to Punch In

Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics

He’s not The Kid any more. Kevin Garnett is 32 years old, an age when the proverbial “widow of opportunity” begins to slide downward. His best chance at a ring may be right now, right here, with these Boston Celtics.

But for that to happen, he’ll have to live up to the hype. That’s right. K.G., The Big One of Boston’s Big Three, has to play better.

In 18 playoff games (going into Game 5 against the Detroit Pistons tonight in Boston), Garnett is averaging 21 and 10. Not bad, but not enough. Against the Pistons, he’s averaging 22 and 11. Even better. Still, not good enough.

“I’m waiting for him to be the Big Ticket,” says one NBA coach. “Not just the ticket.”

I’ve long been a K.G. fan. I love his passion and work ethic. And there’s no arguing his otherworldly skills. Much power is packed into his muscular yet stick-like 6-foot-11 frame and his tools would be worthy of any guard.

But as majestic as he’s been, as much of a model player as he’s been, K.G. cannot escape that he’s never led a team to the NBA finals. In Minnesota, his Timberwolves were perennial first-round losers until four seasons ago when they reached the Western Conference finals, only to lose to the Lakers in six games.

During that postseason, K.G. was a  24-and-14 guy. (See the window I’m talking about?)

As I’ve watched these Celtics thrive and struggle, struggle and thrive, through this postseason, I, too, have been waiting for the K.G. performance that jumps off the box score like an angry, hungry python. I’m waiting for a 30-20 night, 35-22. A 40-25 night.

I’ve been waiting for the kind of game Paul Pierce had in Game 7 against the Cavs. That was a 41-point afternoon. Pierce was not in the zone, he was the zone. He missed but 10 of 23 shots, and only one of 12 free throws.

Beyond the numbers, Pierce was fierce. He was a presence on both ends of the floor on nearly every possession. His most critical play may have come when he dove on the court, gathered a loose ball in a tussle of arms and legs and managed a timeout before a Cav could tie him up.

Once he knew he’d gotten the T.O., Pierce let out a piercing, primal yell that screamed beyond volumes.

That’s the kind of night Kevin Garnett needs now. In fact, if he is to lead a team to the NBA finals for the first time in his career, he actually needs two of them.

Following Pierce’s Game 7 masterpiece, K.G. described it as the kind of night when the Celtics “got the ball to Paul Pierce and got out of the way.”

Well, now the Celtics need K.G. to lead the way. They need him to eliminate the only small stain on his otherwise brilliant resume by living up to his billing, his moniker.

They need him, simply, to be Big.

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