The last time Kevin Garnett took the floor for a postseason basketball game was June 17, 2008. That was the night that KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen defeated the mighty Lakers to bring a 17th NBA championship banner to Boston.
He was 32 then. This spring, he'll turn 34. What has KG done in the past two years? He's celebrated a championship, played his 1,000th career game, surpassed 40,000 career minutes, strained his right knee, tried and failed to come back, watched a Celtics playoff run from the bench in street clothes, returned again, and finally, battled a hyperextended knee and other assorted minor injuries as he attempts to bring the Celtics back to the top of the world in 2010.
He's been through a lot. But the one thing he hasn't done since June 17, 2008 is take the floor and play postseason basketball, and come Saturday night, that will change. When the Celtics take the floor at the TD Garden for Game 1 against the Miami Heat, KG will be ready. He's prepared to do whatever is asked of him in the playoffs.
"Whatever [head coach] Doc [Rivers] needs me to do," Garnett said. "I told him if I have to die out there on the court, that's what it is. That's what postseason play's all about — giving everything you have. I'm no exception to that."
Last season, the Celtics lacked a team identity defensively in the playoffs without Garnett. Short two big bodies without KG and Leon Powe, the C's succumbed to the dominating presence of Orlando's Dwight Howard in a seven-game East semifinal last May. This year, with KG back, the team has a chance to turn things around.
"Kevin is our leader," Kendrick Perkins said. "He brings the energy, he brings the tenacity to the team. He just brings the whole team with him. With Kevin out there on the court, he's like our big brother. We all kind of follow his lead."
On a team with this many stars and this many star-sized egos, there's a lot of pressure that comes with bringing the veteran leadership to the court and to the locker room. But KG himself is downplaying that. It's not about him; it's not even about the Celtics at all, in fact. This time of year, pressure is everywhere you look.
"The pressure's on this whole league," Garnett said. "The pressure's on any team that's in the postseason. I think the Lakers probably have more pressure than anybody, what with trying to repeat what they did last year. But other than that, I think there's a little bit of pressure on everybody that's in the postseason."
For the Celtics in particular, it's about proving the skeptics wrong. Everyone who said this team was too old, too slow, too weak on the glass, too streaky — this is Boston's chance to prove that all that talk was for nothing.
With KG and everyone else healthy, the Celtics are in the best possible position to make that statement.
"Our goal all year long was to get to the playoffs healthy," said Pierce, who also battled nagging injuries this season. "We've been able to accomplish that goal. It's been a bumpy season — a lot of injuries, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of inconsistency. But our No. 1 goal was to get to the playoffs healthy with the team we had. Now that we've done that, we'll see what it's all about."
That we will.
The C's have a healthy leader, and for the most part, a healthy roster. This is their chance to make the most of it.