By A. Sherrod Blakely
PHOENIX Not a game passes by where Kevin Garnett isn't running his mouth and coach Doc Rivers couldn't be any happier.
For all the talk about KG's trash-talking, regarded as the best of the best in the NBA, what's often overlooked is his role as the voice literally of the Celtics defense.
That defense was again put to the test (and failed) Friday against a Phoenix Suns squad that did what all Phoenix Suns teams try to do run, run and when that doesn't work, run some more. Not only did the Celtics lose the game, 88-71, but both Garnett and Rivers were ejected from the contest.
For all the things that the C's do well, often their ability to effectively communicate with one another is overlooked.
Rivers feels so strongly about making sure his team understands this, every now and then he'll have practice where no talking is allowed.
"Then they find out, a guy gets cracked and knocked down on a pick and then he'll turn around because he can't talk . . . then all of a sudden, you realize how important talking is," Rivers told CSNNE.com. "We don't do that a lot."
That's because most nights, it is evident that the C's place a premium on ensuring everyone on the floor is on the same page defensively.
Even before a sold-out crowd with the collective voices of fans usually drowning out the players on the court, there's no mistaking Garnett barking out defensive instructions to his teammates, or Rajon Rondo alerting a teammate to a screen coming, before it is set.
And when that communication isn't what it should be, players notice.
Rivers recalls Boston's most recent game against Detroit, a game in which the Celtics struggled before ultimately rallying in the fourth quarter for an 86-82 win.
"At halftime, Rondo was complaining that no one was talking," Rivers said. "All the switching that we were doing defensively, there was no talking. We were getting destroyed. You can't play good defense without a lot of guys talking."
For Boston, the productive chatter begins and ends with Garnett.
Even though the C's managed to win six of the nine games Garnett missed when he was out with a muscle strain in his lower right leg, it was clear that their defense suffered in his absence.
In the 36 games Garnett has played this season, the C's are giving up just 90.8 points per game.
In the other nine without him, that number jumps to 94.1 points per game.
"The value he has on your team, is irreplaceable," Rivers said. "It's amazing the difference when he doesn't play. Even though we're still a good defensive team, it's not the same."
Before the Celtics traded for Garnett in 2007, Rivers got a heads-up from Garnett's former coach in Minnesota, Flip Saunders, about what to expect.
"Flip said, 'You're going to be amazed at how much he talks on defense,' " Rivers recalls. "And you knew it anyway when you played against him. You always heard him. It's great."
So is getting back Kendrick Perkins, a player who like Garnett, impacts a game as much with his words as he does with his play on the court.
"Defensively, Perkins doesn't need a lot of help," Garnett said. "He's a talker. We have that chemistry and rapport with him. To have him back to be a force . . . it's good to have Perk back."
Indeed, the return of Perkins has brought the C's as close to being complete as we've seen them all season.
"All the starters have great chemistry," Rondo said. "Not many guys play together four years straight, same starting five. We're in a great situation."
But the on-the-court chatter, making sure teammates don't get beat by giving them a heads-up, it speaks to a bond that goes deeper than simply the game of basketball.
"We actually give two cents about each other, which is a rarity," Garnett said. "We deal with each other off the court, which is a big plus. I'm not just saying that to make your column look like whatever, this is true life. And we enjoy each other; we're like brothers. We argue, we debate, we laugh . . . we're like brothers, real life."