CHICAGO – Kevin Garnett’s words are so powerful that he can inspire a team that he doesn’t even play for.
Garnett, a former champion with the Boston Celtics who is more than four years removed from his last game in green and white, sent a message to the team this week that lit a fire in its belly heading into Friday night’s Game 3 against the Chicago Bulls.
New broke after the contest, which Boston won 104-87, that Garnett had sent the message to a Celtics staffer this week, and the message so strong that it needed to be shared. Avery Bradley saw it, Brad Stevens saw it, Isaiah Thomas saw it, and then the message was eventually played to the entire team before Friday’s tip-off.
“KG said some inspirational words for us,” Bradley said after the win, “and it kind of reminded us that, you know, Celtics, we’re always supposed to be the hardest-playing team, every single night.”
Boston then took the floor at the United Center and dominated the Bulls to win its first game of the series.
Not many more details of the message leaked out until Marcus Smart elaborated on the pregame moment Saturday afternoon, following Boston’s practice at Roosevelt University.
“I just remember it was on a speaker,” Smart said as he stared down at the practice court and he replayed the moment in his head. “Everybody knows when KG talks, his voice is very demanding, and you just listen. So everybody was quiet and just listening to what he had to say.”
Smart then revealed the part of the message that struck the strongest chord with him before the C’s took the court.
“He said, ‘I’m a Celtic for life. That’s what we do. We play. We’ve got to have dogs, and play like dogs. That’s what Celtics are all about,’ “ Smart recalled. “That’s big for us, and that’s what we needed to hear: We’re all Celtics, and we need some dogs.”
The allusion to dogs is a strong one. Garnett and his teammates used to call their top perimeter defenders “pit bulls” during his time with Boston, a nickname that implies that those players relentlessly attack the opponent at every given moment.
Bradley was one of the players who earned that nickname during his three seasons playing alongside Garnett. Now, four years later, he took the message personally and went out and attacked Chicago’s offense like a dog.
Smart, Jae Crowder and many other Celtics played at a high level defensively as well. In fact, after the contest, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg called Bradley, Smart and Crowder “elite wing defenders.”
No one would have described Boston’s defense as dominant or singled out any of their defenders for making a substantial impact following Games 1 and 2. In fact, the opposite likely would have been the case.
Following Game 3? It was a much different story, and Garnett is a big reason why.
“It was a reminder of Celtics family,” Bradley said Friday night of Garnett’s message. “We have to play a certain way, because they’re watching.”
They’ll be watching again when Game 4 tips off Sunday evening. Let’s hope the fire KG lit is still burning strong when the ball goes up.