With the Celtics off until Wednesday, I want to make good on the chance to write about something that catches my eye every time I watch Kevin Garnett play.
There are many things to notice about KG’s game, the most obvious being the hunger he brings to the court each and every game. He constantly talks to himself during stoppages in play, consuming his own words as fuel for his intensity. His involvement in the game seems to increase during the times he sits on the bench, always barking out instructions or cheering on good play. And at least once a game, normally after a block or an and-one, he will clench both fists and his jaw, furrow his eyebrows, and fix his glare onto the floor just a few feet in front of him, completely immersed in his own swell of angry accomplishment.
Yet, more than any of those things, what I notice most about Garnett when I watch him play is his unfailing habit of goaltending any shot that comes the way of his rim after play has been whistled dead. Whether it’s a lay-up or a three, Garnett’s hand is always there to either catch the shot or slap it away.
There is never a facial expression when KG performs this action—he doesn’t clutch the ball in his hands and stare down the shooter. He doesn’t mouth off or cockily play up to the crowd. He rarely acknowledges the fact that anything has happened at all. At this point in his career, I suppose this is similar to a free throw routine in that it has been performed so many times his body just does it automatically. But at some point KG decided to goaltend those shots, at some point it was something he consciously chose to do, and that is where my fascination lies.
It could be argued that Kevin Garnett’s goaltending in these situations is inconsequential, that players aren’t bothered by it, that they shoot so much they know whether the shot is going in or not by that point in its trajectory anyway. But I believe that argument would be incorrect.
Basketball, especially putting the ball in the hoop, is about rhythm. NBA players require less to find their rhythm than an average player, but it still takes a few made shots or a couple good plays to attain it. Although shooting after the whistle is blown may seem like an after thought, I would argue that seeing that shot go in has a positive effect on a player. If said player has been struggling with their shot until that point in the game, then the shot could ease self inflicted pressure to start producing and help a player find their rhythm. If the player has made a few baskets already, draining one more only adds to the momentum.
This is not to say that missing the shot will put a player into a tailspin; missing a shot after the whistle is probably the easiest shot to shrug off of any taken in a game. The player’s focus is mostly on the call being made, not the shot, and the shot has no pressure attached to it—it is free from thought.
Unless, of course, the shot never completes its journey. Then, even if only for a second, the player loses his train of thought from the game, focusing instead on wondering what would have been the shot’s outcome, and on Kevin Garnett.
I have never seen a player react to KG when he does this. Maybe I am reading into it too much, maybe its just as easy to brush off a goaltended shot as it is a miss in that situation, but I know that I certainly would feel a slight sense of annoyance if it were my shot.
Basketball’s rules make it so that every shot meets its end. Every ball’s parabola starts at the finger tips and ends (discounting air balls and blocks) at or through the hoop. If a ball is goaltended, points are awarded: as we know, goaltending is an infraction. Players and fans have been conditioned to react to a goaltend, which is why there is an audible rise in stadium noise each and every time the event occurs.
Because of this, a player must feel a certain pang of wrong-doing when Garnett snatches his shot away just inches from the hoop. It’s illegal, not allowed, the play just looks and feels wrong.
KG’s thought process behind the action may not be so in depth. I would guess that sees this action as a way to send a message to opposing players: There will be no easy baskets here, no free trips—you better come harder than that if you intend to score on me tonight!
Or, perhaps KG is Jordan-esque in his approach to the game, and feels that even a minor edge like disrupting a player’s concentration, albeit briefly, is advantageous enough for him to goaltend every time the opportunity presents itself.
Whatever the reasoning is, the action epitomizes Kevin Garnett and his game, and it will always be a prime part of my memory about the fire KG brought to the court each time he stepped onto it.
Tags: Kevin Garnett