Garnett has turned back the clock in the playoffs as well, although in this case he has turned it back to the wrong time. In the first two games of the Celtics' first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Hawks, Garnett looked much more like the version of himself from December, when he averaged only 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in four games.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers would like to see Garnett return to mid-season form in Game 3 on Friday when the Celtics will try to take the lead in the series, which is tied at one game each.
"We've got to get his jumper going," Rivers said at Thursday's practice. "They're doing a good job of bumping him around and knocking him around. We've got to do a better job as a staff of trying to get bodies off of him and giving him some room."
Garnett's raw numbers may not suggest that he is struggling. Through two games he has averaged 17.5 points and 12 rebounds, figures that are more than decent considering his defensive responsibilities. But it took him more than two full quarters to find his rhythm in Game 1 before finishing with 20 points on 8-for-19 shooting and he never found his groove in Game 2, when he shot just 5-for-13 from the field and committed three turnovers.
Garnett, as much as any other player, appears to have been affected by the absence of Ray Allen on offense. Garnett seldom puts the ball on the floor and only infrequently posts up for his own shot at this stage of his career, so he relies on spacing to get him open jump shots. The same issues were partly to blame for his rough December, when Paul Pierce's absence made it easier for defenses to crowd him.
Allen is no more than a game-time decision for Game 3, but point guard Rajon Rondo will be back from his one-game suspension. Rondo's return will help create more space for Garnett, but that alone may not be enough for Rivers. The coach intimated that Avery Bradley, who has not had much impact offensively in the series, would need to become more of a threat to force the Hawks to rethink their defensive gameplan.
"Our spacing is horrendous for him," Rivers said. "Clearly, without Ray, they're using both guards to just sit in the paint. We have to do a better job of creating space. It's tough when you have two guys they're just not guarding. That makes it tough on Kevin.
This is not the first time the Celtics have dealt with such a problem. Early in his career, Rondo was far from a polished product on offense, and when Kendrick Perkins was in the middle, the Celtics often played three-on-five on offense.
"It reminds me of Perk and Rondo early on, when it was a big and a guard," Rivers said. "Now it's two guards who are quick and can go and jab at the ball, so we've got to figure out something because we've got to get something down low."
For most of the season, Garnett and the Celtics defied time, but in the playoffs they are finding that they cannot defy space.