DENVER — The locker room had all but emptied out, with Kevin Garnett the last player still around. It is an image that those of us in the media who have followed his career that began in Minnesota and lived on in Boston, have seen countless times.
For fans, images of Garnett have a certain individuality about them as well which in itself, ironic.
Because when you talk about the greatest players of this generation, often they are clumped into groups of scorers, or rebounders, or assist men.
And then there's Garnett, one of the best all-around players not just of this generation, but to ever play the game. When it comes to such comparisons, words are hollow if they're not backed up by numbers.
Oh he's got numbers. Hall-of-Fame, milestones-by-the-minute it seems, numbers.
In Boston's 98-91 loss at Denver, Garnett became the first player in NBA history with career totals surpassing 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists and 1,500 steals. He came into the game needing one assist, and finished with five.
For any player to surpass any one of those barriers is an accomplishment. But for one man to do so, and still compete at a relatively high level, is astounding.
"To be honest, I'm not a stat guy," Garnett said. "But anytime you make accomplishments in the league, milestones, you gotta be grateful."
Indeed, good health - and a healthy work ethic - are both essential to having the kind of career Garnett has had.
But ultimately, it comes down to having a desire to be more than good, but great.
And while some see that as being able to score a lot of points or grab a lot of rebounds, Garnett has never viewed himself in such a one-dimensional prism.
"I've always told you guys, that's what I am. My greatest strengths are sometimes my greatest weaknesses. if you know anything about me, my personality, I'm not one-dimensional. It's multi-facets that make up the man that's in front of you. At the same time, I work really hard at understanding the game and trying to perfect my craft."
That work ethic has been a constant throughout his career, drawing younger players to approaching the game the way he does, like a moth to a flame.
"When you see a player that's as good as he is, working so hard all the time, treating practices like games, you can't help but work harder," Celtics guard Avery Bradley told CSNNE.com. "I pride myself on having a great work ethic, but KG … his work ethic is on another level. That's what makes him such a great player."
And while Garnett has certainly put his time in working out, conditioning his body on the beaches of Malibu, and countless, blurry-eyed sessions of breaking down video, he's quick to remind folks that his path to basketball greatness involved many others.
"You just don't reach milestones by yourself," Garnett said. "You need help. and I've always wanted to give that thanks to not only the coaches, but former players I played with, former teammates, great friends. The milestone is a great one. I'm very appreciative of it. Someday it'll be a big deal to me. I'm honored."
Flip Saunders has been a part of Garnett's development, both as his coach in Minnesota, and as someone who tried to come up with game plans to stop him.
"He's always going to play with a great amount of passion. He's always going to play hard. He makes winning plays," said Saunders, who coached against Garnett in Detroit and later, Washington. "As all guys, when you get a little older, he doesn't probably block as many shots as he used to and doesn't have the same total athleticism, but he's got a lot of minutes on those legs. He's going to do whatever it takes to win. Whatever Doc asks him to do, he's going to do that."
Said Garnett, "duration is everything, man. To be able still, to be playing on this level, it says a lot. It's not like I'm playing on some grand level, but I am playing on a decent level to where it's helping the team and I'm still trying to create different edges and different matchups and different mismatches night-in, night-out. And I still have a brain; I still know how to think this game. There's different formats of the game for me at this point. And I'm still enjoying the game. As long as those components are still a part, then I'm good."