By Steve Lichtenstein
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Kevin Garnett was on fire.
The 37-year-old future Hall of Fame forward hit his first six shots to help give the Brooklyn Nets a 19-13 lead over Portland with 6:35 left in the first quarter Monday night at the Barclays Center.
Though he had been struggling this season to convert shots from all over the floor, as evidenced by a field-goal percentage of 30 entering the game, the Nets made a concerted effort to get Garnett off early.
With two of their top scorers in center Brook Lopez and point guard Deron Williams out while nursing ankle injuries, the Nets needed players like Garnett to step up to keep pace with the red-hot Trail Blazers, winners of eight of their first 10 games.
So here was Garnett, turning back the clock, stepping into and knocking down those 20-footers that are becoming more obsolete in today’s NBA. He even went down in the post and nailed a few shorter turnarounds.
And while it’s clear that age has cost Garnett some mobility on the other end, he still made life difficult for Portland star LaMarcus Aldridge.
But once that five-minute milepost passed, that was it for Garnett for the quarter, per coach Jason Kidd’s orders.
And though the Nets completed their best quarter of the season ahead 40-31, that brief spurt was the night’s high point. Brooklyn’s offense devolved into a brickfest and the Blazers broke away in the second half to win, 108-98, dropping the Nets to 3-7.
And therein lies the Garnett conundrum.
When the Nets announced in the summer the megadeal that brought over Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from Boston for worn parts and future draft picks, the spin was that Garnett specifically would change the Nets’ notoriously soft culture.
Except it’s hard to do that five minutes at a time.
Haters mock the Nets, and Garnett in particular, as “old.”
Well, Garnett is one year older than last season, when he averaged just under 30 minutes per game. Yes, he sat out a dozen games or so late in the year, but that was due to ankle injuries. Once the playoffs began, the Celtics rode Garnett to the tune of over 35 minutes per game, without any detrimental effect on performance. Garnett averaged a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor in the six-game series loss.
Garnett has yet to breach the 30-minute barrier for Brooklyn, coming closest in a 28-minute run when the Nets won in overtime in Phoenix.
It’s not easy for players of any age, let alone someone with Garnett’s mileage, to maintain a shooting rhythm from a good distance when playing so sporadically.
So should anyone really be shocked that, after Garnett sat for a good 20 minutes of real time and came back without another warm-up, he proceeded to misfire on 11 of his final 13 attempts?
What I wanted to know was what coach in his right mind removes a player on a roll like that. What, Garnett’s leg would have detached if he played until he either missed or felt winded? If he went, say, seven minutes in the first quarter, couldn’t Kidd make up the difference in the next stanza?
While not addressing that specifically, Kidd took responsibility for the loss.
“I take the blame for this,” said Kidd. “We got a little stagnant on the offensive end, so this falls on my shoulders. We got off to a good start and in that third quarter, we came out a little flat and that falls on me.”
No one was able to get Garnett’s perspective, as he was one of many Nets who hid out in the locker room and bolted before any members of the media could ask questions.
That’s also a typical Garnett move, something he likely views as uniting the team against a common enemy, even if that enemy isn’t on the Nets’ schedule.
The slate has the Nets on the road for four of their next six games in an 11-day span, starting Wednesday in Charlotte. The way the Nets have played, none of these games can be deemed sure things.
I get that that the Nets keep talking about “the process” and the season may be only 10 games old, but at some point Kidd is going to have to start playing these games to win instead of focusing solely on the long-term picture. Otherwise, when that photo comes into focus, it will be of the Celtics sitting at the lottery table with the Nets’ draft pick.
The Nets had enough weapons to overcome the Blazers last night, even with the Lopez and Williams (plus forward Andrei Kirilenko, who missed his fifth consecutive game due to back spasms) absences. Sean Livingston has been a wonder filling in at point guard while the increased Nets’ defensive activity minus Lopez should have helped offset the points scored loss.
The Nets needed more of Garnett and less of players like Mason Plumlee, the rookie who had a decent road trip but has few NBA attributes other than he’s nearly 7 feet tall and tries his best.
Garnett was brought over here to show the Nets the way to becoming winners.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1
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