More Minutes for Kevin Garnett a Must for Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors

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More Minutes for Kevin Garnett a Must for Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors
USA TODAY Sports

Could Kevin Garnett be the key to the Brooklyn Nets' push through the NBA playoffs?

It seems a strange question to ask, on more counts than one. After all, this is Kevin Freakin' Garnett we're talking about here! He's one of the 15-20 greatest players of all time, a former league MVP-turned-champion whose feathery touch on fadeaways is surpassed only by his defensive dominance and locker-room leadership.

Then again, this isn't the same Garnett to whom nicknames like "The Kid" and "The Big Ticket" stick so well anymore. He's 37 years old, with just under 54,000 minutes of NBA wear-and-tear on his 7-foot frame. He missed 28 games this season—some due to strategic rest, but many to a back injury—and averaged a career-low 20.5 minutes in those in which he participated.

In Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors, Garnett tallied just five points on 1-of-5 shooting from the field (3-of-6 from the line) in 20 minutes. The Nets, though, went on to win their postseason opener, 94-87. Three nights later, Garnett was far more efficient (13 points on 5-of-6 from the floor, 3-of-4 from the line in 19 minutes), but Brooklyn fell five points short of Toronto at the Air Canada Centre.

Maybe, then, when it comes to KG, less is more for the Nets...

Or not. Check the rest of the box scores and you'll start to understand why.

As poorly as Garnett shot in Game 1, his offensive woes didn't hinder his efforts elsewhere on the court. He still managed to gobble up a team-high eight rebounds, poke the ball away twice, get up for a block and even dish out a dime for good measure. Game 2 saw Garnett stuff the stat sheet with four boards, an assist and a block.

More telling still is the extent to which Brooklyn has outperformed Toronto overall with Garnett on the court. The Nets were 10 points better than the Raps during Garnett's 20 minutes in Game 1 and scored seven more points than did Toronto during KG's 19 minutes on Tuesday.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who's been privy to Garnett's Hall of Fame career. He's notoriously talkative on the defensive end, barking out signals and assignments to his teammates while anchoring the back line at every stop.

Garnett can't get up quite as quickly or as easily to challenge shots inside as he used to, nor is he so nimble as to cover all the space between the arc and the rim with such ease. But Father Time hasn't yet robbed Garnett, a former Defensive Player of the Year, of his instincts and intelligence. He always knows where to be and when, and he can be plenty effective as a more gravity-bound, long-armed behemoth so long as he's in the right place at the right time.

On the flip side, the Raptors have handled the Nets when Garnett's sat thus far. According to The Brooklyn Game's Devin Kharpertian, Toronto has outscored Brooklyn 114-99 sans Garnett and has expanded its rebounding edge from 37-28 when Garnett plays to 60-39 with the Big Ticket on the bench.

Those rebounding woes have been, are and will likely continue to be problematic for the Nets. "We've talked about it all season," Deron Williams told reporters after Game 2. "It's been a plague for us."

USA TODAY Sports

Even that might be an understatement. According to NBA.com, the Nets ranked 27th in offensive rebounding percentage (21.7 percent), 28th in defensive rebounding percentage (72.3 percent) and 29th in total rebounding percentage (71.7 percent) during the 2013-14 regular season.

Not surprisingly, Garnett had a significant impact on the glass when he played. Brooklyn's offensive rebounding efforts took a hit with Garnett on the court (18.1 percent), but the team collected defensive caroms at a rate nearly on par with that of the second-ranked Indiana Pacers (76.7 percent).

As is the case with Garnett the Rim-Protector, Garnett the Rebounder may not be the athletic marvel he once was but remains smart and savvy enough to be a factor in that regard. He's long been one of the NBA's best at the seemingly lost art of boxing out. Even if Garnett can't always spring for a loose ball like he used to, he can make darn well sure that the man to whom he sticks himself won't be able to grab it, either.

Just ask Tyler Hansbrough. The wily forward managed just one rebound and picked up a loose-ball foul on an over-the-back attempt against Garnett in Game 1 and didn't set foot on the court even once in Game 2.

Surely, the Nets could've used more of Garnett's gifts in Game 2. The Raptors rebounded 19 of their own misses—which is exactly how many of Toronto's misfires Brooklyn picked up on the other end.

That's not exactly a recipe for postseason success, even less so if you by Pat Riley's old credo, "No rebounds, no rings." Garnett, for his part, showed in that game that he can still move around and get off his feet when he needs to.

Would it behoove Jason Kidd, then, to afford Garnett more minutes on the floor?

Once again, the Nets find themselves facing a seemingly straightforward question to which the answers aren't so simple.

In a vacuum, upping Garnett's playing time would be in Brooklyn's best interests. Without Brook Lopez, Garnett is the Nets' only reliable big guy. Mason Plumlee has the requisite size and athleticism to be a factor on both ends of the floor, and certainly has been in fits and spurts, but the rookie lacks the seasoning and the understanding of playoff basketball to be the big-minutes difference-maker that the Nets need.

That being said, he's managed to supplant Andray Blatche, Brooklyn's primary backup big for much of the season, on Kidd's depth chart. Mirza Teletovic is tall, but prefers to operate on the perimeter. 

If there's anyone who might be able to make up for Garnett's scant presence, it's Andrei Kirilenko. The 33-year-old has been through plenty of his own battles in 11 NBA seasons and six prior postseason appearances. He didn't appear in Game 1 against Toronto but was plenty active in Game 2, nabbing four points, three rebounds, an assist and a whopping four steals in 20 minutes.

His activity has been and could be a boon to Brooklyn's fortunes. According to NBA.com, the Nets were markedly better on the offensive glass when Kirilenko played (25.4 percent) than they were when he didn't (20.7 percent).

But Kirilenko, a credit to his team though he may be, is far from a reliable fill-in up front. The Nets were noticeably worse on the defensive boards—69.7 percent, a mark that would've ranked dead last in the NBA—when AK-47 was on the floor.

And it's not as though he was very often. Kirilenko missed 37 games this year due to all manner of maladies. Those frequent absences could've only hindered Kirilenko's integration into Brooklyn's unique "long ball" scheme, particularly on the defensive end. His skills are still there for the most part, but his familiarity with what the Nets do isn't.

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Of course, playing Garnett more frequently and/or for longer stretches is a dangerous proposition in itself. The Nets have carefully monitored Garnett's minutes so as to preserve him for what they hope will be an extended run through the Eastern Conference playoffs. In fact, Garnett hasn't played more than 25 minutes in a single game in almost three months.

The last instance? Jan. 27, in a one-point home loss to (you guessed it!) the Toronto Raptors. Garnett collected a team-best 11 rebounds during that one.

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For Garnett's most recent game of 30 minutes or more, you'd have to go all the way back to Jan. 10, when the Nets beat the Miami Heat in double-overtime, 104-95. Garnett played just over 36 minutes in that one, accounting for 12 points and 10 rebounds therein.

In other words, it's been a while since Garnett's played major minutes in a single game. There's no telling whether his body can handle such a hefty load now, under the added stress and strain of playoff competition.

But Brooklyn's schedule should allow for some degree of tinkering. The Nets don't play again until Friday, will have a day off before Game 4 on Sunday and can count on another 72 hours or so of rest prior to Game 5 next Wednesday. That doesn't mean Kidd should count on Garnett to play upwards of 30 minutes a game, but adding in enough stints here and there to bring his average up around 25 minutes should be doable.

If the Nets don't at least try to push Garnett soon, they may not survive long enough to see their preservation of the Big Ticket put to good use in the second round against the two-time defending champs, much less in the latter stages of a dark-horse run to the NBA Finals.

 

What should the Nets do about KG? Tweet me your thoughts!


 

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