Kevin Garnett’s impact on the Boston Celtics feels so profound that it’s hard to believe that he played only six seasons in Boston.
Garnett’s influence on the Celtics’ only championship in this millennium can certainly be still felt to this day, whether it be through throwback games or whenever members of that title team continue to milk a championship more than a decade ago. It was thus only fitting to see his number hang in the crowded rafters with the Celtics legends that have not only played their hearts out, but also contributed to the winning tradition of the Celtics and cemented Boston’s status as America’s titletown.
An offseason trade in 2007 brought Garnett to the Celtics after more than a decade as a perennial All-Star whose playoff trips ended in disappointment. The 2004 NBA MVP was looking for greener pastures and in Boston he found the opportunity to be part of something bigger than himself while realizing that anything is possible.
Garnett’s averages of 15.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and a block in 396 games as a Celtic are below his career numbers and that of his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but these were far outweighed by the intangible contributions he provided to Boston.
With Garnett’s arrival, the Celtics’ fortunes turned around overnight, as they tied the record for the biggest single-season turnaround in NBA history when they won 66 games in the 2007-2008 Season after only winning 24 in the season prior. At the forefront of that was a revamped defense, which had a defensive rating of 98.9, the lowest since the Celtics’ 1976-1977 Season. The 12-time All-Defensive selection was the anchor of that vaunted defense, as he set the tone for the rest of the team and was named Defensive Player of the Year that season. That they won the championship over Kobe Bryant and Boston’s archrival Los Angeles Lakers was quite the fitting end to a great season.
However, the wear and tear began to show as the injuries hounded Garnett the following season as he played in 57 games in 2008-2009, the lowest in his time with the Celtics. Nevertheless, the nine-time All-NBA selection’s spirit was undeterred, as he helped bring Boston back to the NBA Finals in 2010, where he and the Celtics lost to the Lakers in seven games.
Garnett and Boston’s battles with LeBron James during his stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat are well documented, with the villain role being shared by both at different points in time. The Celtics were ruthless with James and largely prevented him from being able to advance even further in the playoffs. Boston tried to get into the psyche of James and for a time it worked to perfection. That was, until James flipped the switch and turned in one of his more legendary performances.
That stretch was a defining moment for Garnett and the Celtics, both of whom shed labels of not being able to win in his career and in the modern NBA, respectively. It was then replaced by a toughness that was more about respect in so far as that teams had to earn, or better yet, bleed for their points.
The likes of Bryant and James built on their legacies by having to get through Garnett and Boston, who did not hold back as a sign of respect to the highest level (especially for Kobe).
Kevin Garnett may have started his NBA career with the Minnesota Timberwolves and won most of his individual accolades there, but without a doubt there is no place like home for him than with the Boston Celtics. The moment Garnett moved to Boston, he helped set the tone largely on the defensive end, bringing the kind of mentality that reminded Celtics fans of championship teams of the past.
For a team trying to break a championship drought, a night like this is something the Celtics can certainly use to rekindle that fire and draw inspiration from with the playoffs right around the corner.