Kevin Garnett key to Celts strong defense

WALTHAM, Mass.ûWhen Kevin Garnett starts screaming, the Celtics’ defense stops struggling. For all his assetsûathleticism, intensity, intelligenceû it’s the ability to communicate with teammates that he considers the key to Boston’s skill at shutting down

An outstanding defender throughout his previous 12 seasons, all with Minnesota, Garnett won the league award for the first time by a wide margin one day before Boston takes a 1- 0 lead into Game 2 of the first-round series against Atlanta.

He had 90 of the 124 first-place votes and a total of 493 points. Marcus Camby of Denver, last year’s winner, was second with 12 first and 178 points, just edging Shane Battier of Houston, who received 11 first-place votes and 175 points. “Any award you’re able to acquire in this league is a big deal,” said Garnett, who would much prefer his first NBA championship. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning.”

The 6-foot-11, long-armed forward is the major factor behind the Celtics’ climb from a mediocre defensive team to perhaps the best in the league. They held opponents to an NBAlow 41.9 field goal percentage after allowing them to hit 46.8 percent of their shots last season. And they allowed just 90.3 points per game, second-fewest in the league, after giving up 99.2 last year.

No surprise, then, that Boston improved from 24-58 last season to 66-16, the NBA’s best record, after trading for Garnett last summer. “He’s changed our culture defensively,” coach Doc Rivers said. “That’s the most important thing, just the team part of it. Individually, he’s been fantastic, but I think his presence for the team is what stood out.”

Paul Pierce was surprised that Garnett hadn’t won the award before. “He’s been the class of the NBA defensively for a long time now,” Pierce said. “He just anchors our defense. He controls the paint, blocks shots, a lot of things that don’t show up in the stat sheet, with his talking.”

Center Kendrick Perkins is having the best of his five seasons with Boston and credits some of that to Garnett. “You never know how valuable he is until you’ve played with him,” Perkins said. “He controls the whole court. He’s the only player besides Kobe Bryant that I’ve seen control the whole court.” (AP)

______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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