Accepting mortality is a painful process, but the big man's only other option is to ignore a reality the entire world can see. The 15-time All-Star is finished:
Kevin Garnett is broken.— Sean Highkin (@highkin) May 9, 2014
The Brooklyn Nets never got the player they thought they were receiving when they landed the 37-year-old in a nine-player trade with the Boston Celtics last summer. Not in the literal sense, at least.
The flames still burn the same inside one of the NBA's most passionate players, but his words have never rung more hollow than they do now. It's hard to build a team up when simply stepping on the floor is enough to tear it down.
"I’m not happy with my play right now," Garnett said after a four-point performance in Brooklyn's 94-82 loss to the Miami Heat Thursday, via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post. "I’m trying to get in a flow and a rhythm. Try to bring something. It’s just frustrating."
Frustrating is one way to put it. Nets general manager Billy King, who parted with three first-round picks (and the right to swap for a fourth) in the process, might have another word for it.
The Nets knew they weren't getting Garnett at his peak. All-Star appearances aside (his last came in 2012-13), he hasn't been the type of transcendent force that left an indelible mark at the power forward position for a while.
His last 20-point scoring and double-digit rebounding averages came during his final season with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2006-07. The Nets would've been glad to get anything close to the solid, yet far from spectacular stats he put up with the Celtics last season: 14.8 points on 49.6 percent shooting and 7.8 rebounds.
Sure, the numbers had tailed off, but he looked like KG.
He was active and aggressive on Boston's back end, anchoring that unit with a 99 defensive rating, via Basketball-Reference, best among the Celtics' regulars. He was a potent pick-and-pop force, confidently firing off lethal mid-range jumpers or keeping the ball moving when the shots weren't there.
Now, he'd be unrecognizable without those seven letters stitched across the back of his jersey:
Never thought I'd see Kevin Garnett lose his confidence.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 9, 2014
Even gimmies are proving problematic:
Kevin Garnett was really ticked at himself for missing that bunny. Ray Allen comes down and buries a 3 on next possession. Might be ballgame— Rod Boone (@rodboone) May 9, 2014
Garnett shot just 2-of-8 from the field Thursday, yet it's tough to say that was his worst game of the postseason.
He laid an egg (for the first time in his playoff career) during the series opener, misfiring on both of his field-goal attempts. He's finished with five points or fewer in five of Brooklyn's nine playoff games. Only three times has he corralled more than five rebounds (he had a playoff-best 12 in Game 2). He has five blocks for the entire postseason—or as many as Washington Wizards point guard John Wall and Golden State Warriors sniper Klay Thompson.
Garnett's legs have no lift. His jumpers have no rhythm. He reads rotations correctly but lacks the mobility needed to get to his spot.
Tragically, he sees all of this unfolding just like the rest of us:
Garnett dips his head, slaps his sides, in anger at himself— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 9, 2014
"The mind is still willing — watch him 'assistant coaching' during time outs and you can tell he knows the game and he still has a passion for it — but the flesh is weak," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin wrote. "He does not cover ground on defensive rotations like the 2008 KG. He misses shots that used to be automatic."
He's looking for a fight that just isn't there.
The Nets are doing what they can to give Garnett—and themselves, really—a puncher's chance in this series. They're controlling the pace, keeping a lid on Miami's incendiary transition attack by every means necessary. The Heat have nine fast-break points in the series (they average 12.8 on the year, via TeamRankings.com), so the strategy is working.
But it can't loosen Father Time's unrelenting grip on Garnett. He just looks less slow than he would at a track-meet tempo.
Miami is still finding ways to maximize its athletic advantages. The Heat are winning the turnover battle 25-18 and getting solid contributions from their floor spacers. They're 19-of-47 from deep in the series (40.4 percent), pulling defenders away from the basket and leaving Brooklyn vulnerable underneath.
Garnett was brought in to plug those gaps. His body just won't allow him to do the job.
That, more than the statistical slide, is Brooklyn's greatest concern with KG moving forward. It's not like he expected to post notable numbers on a nightly basis.
"I knew my scoring was going to be subjective," he said, via Newsday's Roderick Boone. "I knew I was giving up things coming here. I understand that. ... Whatever [coach Jason Kidd] needs to be on this team, I've tried to be and will continue to try to be."
That's where the sadness really starts to set in.
Garnett isn't going to wave the white flag. He'll keep competing, keep battling, keep demanding the best from his teammates and keep expecting more out of himself.
What he won't be doing, though, is producing. Not at the level the Nets need, not close to the standard the basketball world has set for him:
Kevin Garnett is a warrior. It's a shame his career is ending this way.— exhoopsprguy (@exhoopsPRguy) May 9, 2014
A heroic ending seems somewhere between highly unlikely and impossible, leaning heavier toward the latter.
At this point, one's left wishing that this tragic tale could simply reach its conclusion already.
"For longtime NBA fans and observers, seeing Garnett turn down looks near the basket is just depressing," wrote James Herbert of CBS Sports. "So is seeing Brooklyn head coach Jason Kidd elect to play Mirza Teletovic at center in a crucial playoff game because Garnett and the rest of the Nets bigs have been so ineffective."
The Nets head back to their borough for Saturday's Game 3 (8 p.m. ET on ABC) needing a win in the worst kind of way. From what has transpired so far, it seems their best option is to go with less Garnett and more anyone else.
Maybe Andray Blatche remembers how highly skilled he is and uses that knowledge in the right way. Perhaps Mirza Teletovic has another floor-spacing 20-point barrage up his sleeve. Who knows, maybe Mason Plumlee has another miracle block (or fortunate no-call, depending on your perspective) in him.
Or Kidd can keep rolling the dice on Garnett, an eight-figure gamble that's yet to pay off for Brooklyn. Numbers do, in fact, fib from time to time, but when they reach the same conclusion as the eye test, they're probably worth trusting.
Garnett has reached the game's greatest summit. His storied 19-year career includes a world title (2008), an MVP award (2004), a Defensive Player of the Year honor (2008) and an NBA All-Star Game MVP nod (2003).
Those were the high notes, but this one is uncomfortably low.
It's hard to see how he could possibly climb back up. Like so many hardwood heroes before him, the game appears to have passed him by.
No amount of criticism or hatred will resonate louder with him than these putrid performances. Those external explosions are nothing compared to the internal wars his mind is waging—and his body is losing.
*Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.