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The Legend vs The Big Ticket


The great Cedric Maxwell, two time Celtic champion and 1981 NBA Finals MVP, had a hot take recently when he said that Kevin Garnett is the best all around player Celtics history. Max has seen a lot of players play in Celtic green as he played on the team in 1980s and has been the Celtics radio color commentator for a number of years. There’s been a lot great players in Celtics history from Russell, Havlicek, Cowens, Bird, McHale, Pierce and now to Kyrie and soon to Jayson Tatum. I love Kevin Garnett. He’s one of my favorite athletes ever but to say he’s the best all around player in Celtics history is a stretch. That title belongs to one Larry Joe Bird. So for this weeks article I thought we compare the Celtics career of KG and LB and let’s see who the best all around player in Celtics history is. Let’s break it down.

Individual Awards

KG took home the Defensive Player Of Year in 2008 and should’ve won MVP. Bird won three straight MVPs in 1984, 1985, and 1986. Bird was the unquestioned best player on Earth at the height of the golden era of NBA basketball. Kobe stole KG’s MVP in 2008 thanks to a media campaign that was basically “hey LeBron is gonna win a lot of MVPs soon and this is really our last chance to give one to Kobe”. Earlier in 2008, Kobe was demanding a trade from the Lakers and then winning the MVP. Only the NBA. Meanwhile, KG was reviving Celtic Pride and leading them to 66 wins and anchoring one of the best defenses in NBA history. KG did win an MVP in Minnesota in 2004 but we’re only going off his Celtics career here. Bird’s three MVP top KG’s DPOY and his BJ Shea MVP award in 2008.

Championships 

Both showed up to the Celtics when the franchise was at its lowest point. Bird spearheaded a 32 win turnaround his rookie year and then a championship in his second year. Garnett led a 42 win turnaround and a championship his first year with the team. Bird won three titles and KG won one. Bird went to five NBA Finals and KG went to two. A healthy KG in 2009 and a healthy Perk in 2010 and the Celtics three-peat. I truly believe that. But it’s all about rings here and Larry Bird has three of them. Edge to Larry.

Sidekicks

They’re are both part of the greatest Big Threes in NBA History. Larry teamed with Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish to form the greatest front court in NBA history and KG had Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. They each teamed with Hall Of Famers and it’s tough to imagine them playing without the others. McHale is the best post scorer of all time while Ray is one of the best shooters ever and Pierce is one of the best scorers ever. While Bird always took the last shot in the 80s, Pierce was the one for the KG Celtics. Pierce took the big shot but KG was the Alpha Dog. In the 80s it was Bird’s world and everyone knew it.

Trash Talk

Two of the best trash talkers of all time. Bird was subtle trash talker while KG was loud and in your face. Wildly different styles but still effective. The two best Bird trash talk moments are at the first Three Point Contest in 1986 and Bird walks in the room and looks around at everyone and just says “I’m looking to see who’s gonna finish second.” He promptly wins that contest and then the next two. Stone cold killer. The other is when Bird was destroying Dr. J so bad that he caused Dr. J, perhaps the most regal man in NBA history, to attempt to choke him out. Bird was out scoring Dr. J by a score of 42 to 6. Bird was at the top of his game while Erving was on the back half of his career. We found out later that Bird was just poking and prodding Dr. J every time down the court and then Dr. J just snapped. There’s so many Bird trash talk stories out there but those are two of my favorite.

While Bird was quiet, KG was the opposite. We couldn’t see Bird talking trash to Dr. J but we could see and hear everything Kevin Garnett did on the court. Most of what KG said isn’t exact G rated and probably can’t be repeated here but you could tell he would get in the heads of guys. He drove Andray Blatche insane for a year when the Celtics would play the Wizards. Dwight Howard was one of his favorite targets. He said a not so savory thing about Carmelo Anthony’s wife and then Carmelo tried to fight him at the team bus. Just classic stuff. Both Larry and Kevin’s teams took their trash talking cues from them. The Celtics in the 80s were quiet killers while the Celtics of the late 2000s and early 2010s were gonna whip your ass and let you know about it.

Defining Play

The Larry Bird play that everyone who has eyeballs has seen is the steal against Isiah Thomas and the Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. You know the situation- down 1, time running out, all hope is lost but then Larry Bird saves the day. That play sums up Larry’s never say die attitude and officially cemented him a true Jesus figure in Boston. If there was time on the clock and Larry was on our side, chances were he was going to come through and win the game. KG’s defining play isn’t as dramatic but it is just as memorable. It’s Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals and the Celtics are going to win. They’re already up a solid amount late in the first half. KG gets the slip pass from Pierce and then goes up to the rim. Garnett gets body blocked by Lamar Odom in the air and as he’s heading to the ground, chucks a 112 MPH fastball off the glass for the And 1. He lays on the floor with a fist raised as The Garden goes crazy. No way they were going to lose after that. KG got up and pumped his chest. Should’ve just gave them the trophy right then and there.

Offense/Defense
Bird was never the defensive force that Garnett was but KG was never the offensive player that Bird was. Bird lived off of playing passing lanes and playing free safety while KG was one of the best defensive players in NBA history. KG could guard pretty much any position. He would disrupt a team pick and roll by really blitzing the point guard and thus making the offense totally out of sync. They were both tremendous passers but Bird gets the edge by simply being “The Best Passing Forward Of All Time”. I have KG just behind Bill Walton on the “Best Passing Power Forward or Centers” list but there’s no better passer than Bird. Bird was the better shooter and clutch performer so he has the edge on KG there. So while KG has Bird on defense, Bird has got him on just about everything else.


So there we have it. I wasn’t alive for the Bird era but I’m a historian and I was practically raised on Larry Bird. I’ll spend a whole day watch Bird on YouTube and every time there’s an old Bird game on I’ll watch it. I’ve also saw probably 95 percent of all games Kevin Garnett played for the Celtics. KG is on my personal Mount Rushmore but Bird is practically God. There’s a reason that Bird is called the Basketball Jesus. So sorry, Max, but Larry Legend is the best all around player in Celtics history.

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