It does not take much to motivate Kevin Garnett. His motivational tool for this season has been the perception that he is "old," but even before Garnett hit the big 3-0, he was drawing inspiration from other seemingly innocuous sources.
This is a guy who takes offense to being called a "center," for cripes sake.
Ivan Johnson may not know this. He did spend two years playing in South Korea, so it is possible the 28-year-old rookie missed some of the intricacies of The KG Experience. Johnson is thrilling to watch, as the 6-foot-8 power forward plays like his livelihood is on the line each and every possession. He has a passion seldom seen from any player other than, well, Garnett.
At practice Monday, after the Hawks' win over the Celtics in the first game of their Eastern Conference playoff series, Johnson conjured up the "D" word that has been used before to describe Garnett.
"Garnett, he's a dirty player," Johnson said. "He gives me a lot of elbows, and I can handle that."
Johnson did an admirable defensive job on Garnett on Sunday, and the play definitely was, um, physical at times. But as soon as the syllable "dir-" was uttered, one of his veteran Hawks teammates should have leapt into the media scrum, cupped a hand over Johnson's mouth, and prevented the second syllable "-ty" from escaping.
Garnett looked anxious in the first half on Sunday, either jittery about being back in the playoffs for what could be one of the final times in his career or simply trying to find his timing after taking time off in the last three games of the regular season to rest his hip and knee. Johnson and the Hawks would be best to let the sleeping dog lie and hope doubt begins to creep into Garnett's mind about whether he can keep up with Atlanta's young and athletic big men.
Good luck with that now. Garnett has his motivation, however small, and the Hawks can expect to see a new Garnett on Tuesday. Next thing you know, the Hawks will call him a "center" to his face.