March 6, 2008
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that a young Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace, clad in Minnesota and Portland jerseys, were waging vicious battles in the post and leaving onlookers wondering if they just might be the two best power forwards in the NBA.
And which is better?
There’s always been a rivalry there, and each tends to draw the best out of the other. Whenever the two lanky, 6-11 big men with sweet jumpers and tenacious defense meet, it’s a battle of intensity and pride.
You can make legitimate arguments either way as to who has been better over their careers: ‘Sheed has a ring, KG has a MVP Award. But who was better Wednesday? ETB breaks down last night’s big one through the lens of the two All Star big men at the heart of it.
Kevin Garnett Photo Credit: Icon SMI
Kevin Garnett has been on some good teams before, most notably the 2003-4 Minnesota squad that featured Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell and won the West’s top seed with 58 wins, only to lose to the Lakers in the Western Conference Final. But Garnett has never entered a season on a team that was considered a legitimate title contender. About to turn 32 years old, he realizes this tenure in Boston is his last, best shot at that elusive ring: a ring which would finally validate his otherwise stellar career in the history books. That’s why he’s approached each game this season with renewed intensity, which is saying a lot for a guy with the most heart in the league. So in facing rival Rasheed Wallace and the other best team in the East, a team that had stolen a victory in Boston on Dec. 19th, to say Garnett was pumped would be an understatement.
He came out on fire in the first half, nailing jumpers from all over he floor, working the block and beating the shot clock. Garnett finished with 20 points in the first half, and led his team to a convincing victory on a line that included 31 points on 13-of-22 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a blocked shot. That’s not the typical distribution we see in a KG line, we’re used to another steal or two, another few assists and a few more rebounds. But in this game KG was content to let his center Kendrick Perkins clean the glass (20 rebounds) while he focused on getting his own shot and playing stellar defense. The result was a game-high +22 in the +/- column, the most important stat of the night.
Rasheed played KG tough for much of the night, but got into foul trouble and had to leave Garnett for a few stretches. When the Pistons tried to put their talented duo of Jason Maxiell or Amir Johnson on The Big Ticket he abused them and sent them back to the bench with a series of savvy moves in the high post, slick passes and jumpers in their eye. But it was Garnett’s defense that stood out most of the night. He held ‘Sheed to 10-for-24 shooting, forcing him to the perimeter most of the night, where Wallace nailed just 3 of his 10 three-point attempts. Detroit’s other big men — Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson — were held to a combined 2-for-9 on the night.
Boston led for most of the game, but the Pistons rallied back to tie it at 69-69 early in the fourth quarter. Garnett stepped up on offense, as he has been loathe to do in the past, and scored five straight points for Boston. They had the upper hand from there on out.
We’re still in the midst of the regular season, but it sure didn’t feel like that in Boston last night. And don’t tell the Celtics this was just another regular season win. They needed this one, more than Detroit needed it, to prove to themselves that they should be the favorites in the East and to fans that they can hang with the class of the conference. Detroit knows who they are, and they know they can play with anybody. Boston has been rushing to form such an identity all year. Losing two games at home to the Pistons this season would have been a major blow to their psyche, and KG wasn’t about to let it happen. - Andrew Thell
Thoughts on Rasheed Wallace’s performance on Wednesday night after the break…
Rasheed “Roscoe” Wallace has never had a problem getting up for big games or big matchups against skilled opponents like KG. Some of his best overall performances this season have come in contests where for much of the game he was squaring off with Dirk Nowitzki (21 points, 9 boards, 3 assists, 4 blocks), Amare Stoudemire (22 points, 8 boards, 80% FG), and Tim Duncan (23 points, 15 boards, 3 steals, 2 blocks). Last night was no different, as Wallace clearly relished the opportunity to go into boisterous Boston Garden and tangle with his old tanglemate. Give this round to KG — the man was nearly unstoppable for most of the night — but ‘Sheed was no slouch either, sprained ankle be damned.
As Andrew mentioned above, early foul trouble limited Wallace’s post-defense aggression for much of the second half, as he finished with no blocked shots and just one steal on the night. On most nights he overwhelms and frustrates his opponent in the post, those long arms helping him constantly poke and prod the ball and force his adversary to put a little extra arc on their release lest the shot be sent into the stands. But against a cagey equal like Garnett, ‘Sheed’s famous “pull the chair out” move down low has to be put on the shelf, and KG has battled with him so many times that neither has an especially pronounced advantage guarding the other. If one of them has an extra skip in their step on any given night, they usually get the better of the other, and on Wednesday, at home in front of his fans, it was KG who eventually had the upper hand.
Rasheed Wallace Photo Credit: Icon SMI
But everyone knows that a motivated Rasheed Wallace is as dangerous as anybody in the league, and as he so often does on the road in a hostile environment, he embraced the vitriolic atmosphere and for a spell single-handedly kept his team in the game while his teammates launched one ill-conceived jumper after another. We saw his full repertoire of tools: silky smooth moves in the post with his back to the basket, spot-up midrange jumpers, and of course those sweet longballs that fall through the basket with a perfect swoosh. When he starts hitting those threes, especially on the road, you can almost sense the hometown fans holding their breath, shaking their heads in disbelief, and hoping he doesn’t keep draining them. Fortunately for the Celtics faithful, he only shot 30% from behind the arc, though all three of them seemed to come at a crucial time.
If a berth in the NBA Finals does indeed come down to a heated seven-game series between these two teams, there’ll clearly be other one-on-one matchups that go a long way towards determining the ultimate winner. (And for the record, this three-game regular season series proves nothing to me as to which team is better other than that they’re very, very close.) But the KG vs. Sheed one will be the headliner, the juicy clash between two of the most passionate, trash-talkingest players the league has ever seen. Both of us here at ETB cherish the moments when these two share the court, and if there’s any justice, we’ll get seven more chances to watch it all unfold, blow by blow, when it really counts. - Brian Spencer