BOSTON — Kevin Garnett insists the Celtics can win in any venue. In the boisterous confines of the TD Garden, though, the fiery big man feels right at home.
"The [expletive] jungle was rockin' tonight!" Garnett barked after the Celtics' 101-91 win over the Miami Heat on Friday. "I loved it, [expletive] loved it. [Expletive] it."
If any of that is hard to understand, here is the translation: Garnett enjoyed the atmosphere provided by the home fans as he and the Celtics rode that energy to cut their deficit to 2-1 against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers was not satisfied with Garnett's offensive production in the first two games, even though Garnett's statistics were solid. The Celtics implemented a simple system to get Garnett the ball, one that any youth league team with a kid who has hit his growth spurt early would recognize.
"Throw it up," Rivers said. "There's nobody taller than him on the floor. Throw it up in the air. Kevin will go get it."
With both teams going small for long stretches in the game, Garnett often had three inches or more on the tallest Heat defender. The Celtics utilized lineups of Garnett surrounded by various combinations of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus, Rajon Rondo, Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels. The Heat countered with lineups in which the 6-foot-8 LeBron James was at power forward and the 6-foot-8 Udonis Haslem was matched up with the 6-foot-11 Garnett in the post. Only 6-foot-10 Ronny Turiaf, who played fewer than nine minutes, and 6-foot-9 Joel Anthony, who played fewer than 12 minutes, stood closer to eye level with the 17-year veteran.
Garnett rode the "throw it up" approach to 24 points to go along with 11 rebounds as the Celtics established their presence inside. The Celtics scored 58 points in the paint and controlled the rebounding battle 44-32.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the Celtics' elementary strategy, but he did not have many personnel options to combat it with All-Star forward Chris Bosh sidelined with a strained abdominal muscle. Rondo, who played the role of offensive aggressor two days earlier, spearheaded a steady diet of lobs to enter the ball to Garnett in the post.
"They went small, and nobody could jump as high as Kevin could go," Rondo said. "LeBron is athletic, Haslem, but they can't get to the ball. They switched a little bit, but he stood up to the rim and got most of them."
Since they could not jump with Garnett, the Heat tried to wrestle with him. Flinging elbows were a common sight throughout the game, and Garnett picked up a technical for tossing his left elbow at Heat point guard Mario Chalmers when the two got tangled midway through the fourth quarter.
Chalmers, who has been in an ongoing conversation with Celtics reserve Keyon Dooling whenever the two guards have shared the court, expected Garnett to be feisty. The Heat did not want to "let him get in our heads," Chalmers said, and Miami proved that by scoring 28 fourth-quarter points to nearly wipe out a 24-point Celtics lead.
But even though Garnett was not in the Heat's heads, the fans in "the jungle" got into Garnett's head, bones and muscles. And Garnett loved it.
More accurately, he [expletive] loved it.