BOSTON — Through all the Celtics’ struggles early in the season, when they were incapable of protecting the rim on defense and seemed to suffer a double-digit deficit on the glass in every game, Kenyon Martin was waiting for their call. He was out there, available as a free agent until late February, yet a match was never made.
Martin was in TD Garden on Tuesday, but it was not as a member of the Celtics. After several teams reportedly took fliers on the veteran big man, he finally settled with the Knicks on a 10-day contract last month. Another 10-day contract later, Martin received an extension with New York through the end of the season and has been a pivotal member of the team ever since. He was all over the parquet against the Celtics, scoring nine points and nabbing four offensive rebounds to help the Knicks batter the shorthanded Celtics 100-85.
Afterward, it was clear that Martin harbors some ill will toward the Celtics, who could use a big body with experience now that Kevin Garnett is expected to miss at least two weeks with inflammation in his left ankle.
“It’s their fault,” Martin said. “They lost. There was talks, there was negotiation. They chose not to do it. It was out of my control. I’m a Knick now, so they lost.”
Precisely why Martin did not land with the Celtics is open to debate. Some reports indicated he wanted more than the veteran’s minimum salary or a 10-day contract. Other reports claimed teams, including the Celtics, were tentative about signing a 35-year-old big man who had missed 82 games over the last three seasons. Regardless of the reason, Martin admitted to having a chip on his shoulder for being passed over for so long.
“I’m just here to prove to people that I’ve never lost it,” Martin said. “I guess I’m a better person than I am a basketball player. But the chip I’ve always played with hasn’t gotten bigger. I’m here to prove what I can do — that’s everybody, every night. It doesn’t start with the Celtics. Whoever puts that uniform on that is opposite us, they’re going to see what they’re missing.”
The Knicks certainly know what they have. They would be in rough shape right now if they did not have Martin, who has helped Knicks coach Mike Woodson patch holes up front left by injuries to Tyson Chandler, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby. Martin entered Tuesday averaging 8.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and almost one blocked shot per game, not bad for a guy who supposedly could not play anymore.
Instead of helping the Celtics, Martin helped beat them. To hear him tell it, that is nobody’s fault but their own.