On July 31, 2007, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics executed a trade that sent Kevin Garnett to Beantown.
After the two sides had agreed, they altered the NBA’s landscape drastically. The Celtics gave up five players and two picks for the then-30-year-old Garnett: Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff, Sebastian Telfair and two 2009 first-rounders that turned into Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington. I feel confident saying that Boston won.
Garnett averaged 22.4 points, 12.8 rebound, 4.1 assists and 1.7 blocks for the 2006-07 campaign. He also landed on his 10th All-Star team and led the league in rebounding for the fourth-straight season. Capping off the accolades was a spot on the All-NBA third team and the All-Defensive second team.
The Celtics were getting a player who was approaching the end of his prime, but Garnett wouldn’t need to bear as grand a load as he did in Minnesota. At the time of his trade, he was averaging 38.3 minutes a night with a usage rate of 25.6. As taxing as it seemed, Garnett was one of the league’s best bigs who did everything — there literally wasn’t an aspect of the game where he didn’t make an impact.
Garnett built his brand on stifling defense and intensity, but he was more than capable of being the first option on offense who also had a tremendous feel for the game. In 2003, Garnett averaged an incredible 6.0 assists per game. At 6-11, he and Wilt Chamberlain are the only two players taller than 6-10 to average that many dimes, according to Basketball Reference. The Big Ticket finished second in the MVP voting that year to Tim Duncan.
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Garnett got his revenge the following season. He nearly ran away with the award. Of the 123 first-place votes, KG got 120, Jermaine O’Neal got two and Peja Stojakovic got the final one. For at least one season, Garnett was the NBA’s best players, and his numbers backed it up: 24.2 points, 13.9 boards, 5.0 dimes, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals across 82 games. The icing on the cake was the 39.4 nightly minutes he played. (Oh, and he still managed to shoot 49.9 percent from the field. I’m going to round up and say 50.)
The end of that campaign was Garnett’s peak. He pulled the Timberwolves to the Western Conference Finals where they lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers. Again, KG was a walking 24-14-5 guy who was must see TV. Unfortunately, it was the last time he’d make the postseason before getting traded to Boston.
Earlier that summer, the Celtics were able to finagle a trade for Ray Allen. As the 2007-08 season neared, Boston was already one of the NBA’s premier teams from a talent perspective, but no one knew how they’d perform on the court. Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce would have to figure out how to share the ball without being too selfish, and second-year point guard Rajon Rondo had the task of running the show and making sure the three stars were happy.
One thing was for certain — Garnett was going to make a huge difference on the defensive end. And that he did. The 2007 Celtics ranked 18th in points per game allowed (99.2) and 16th in efficiency (106.9). Their jump was astronomical, and they finished second in points allowed (90.3) and became the NBA’s most efficient defense. It was incredible. Garnett led the league with a defensive rating of 93.8 and had its third-best defensive box plus/minus at plus-4.7.
His sensational play continued throughout the postseason, and his defense was vital to the Celtics championship run. They met the Lakers in the Finals that year. Garnett had a lackluster performance on offense and shot just 42.9 percent from the field despite averaging 18.2 points a night. He more than made up for it with his 78 total rebounds, a mark that led all players. Additionally, Garnett was the only player on either side to average at least one steal and one block.
In Game 6, the clincher, Garnett (and Ray Allen) picked up the slack offensively. Pierce struggled from the field, but it didn’t matter; Boston waxed the Lakers with the final score being 131-92. The 39-point drubbing remains the second-largest in NBA Finals history, and KG had 26 on 10-of-18 shooting. It was arguably the best defensive showing Boston had, and they held Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom to a combined 9-of-30 shooting.
As Boston basked in their triumph, Garnett’s “anything is possible!” scream during the celebration is a moment that will forever stay with Celtics fans. It was his first title, but it was also the 17th for the franchise and the first since 1986.
Garnett, whose stubborn loyalty almost stopped the trade, went from rock bottom to the top of the tallest mountain in a single summer. His resume is one of the most decorated in NBA history, and the championship only adds to it. Kevin Garnett isn’t solely responsible for the title, but he was a huge piece of that puzzle.
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