Wizards forward Andray Blatche says he will resist urge to 'woof' at Kevin Garnett

Andray Blatche says there won't be a repeat episode of his war of words with Kevin Garnett.
Andray Blatche says there won't be a repeat episode of his war of words with Kevin Garnett. (Elsa/getty Images)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 9, 2010

BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett crossed Andray Blatche's respect line of demarcation the last time the Washington Wizards played in Boston. Blatche cannot remember what Garnett shouted at him -- it could've been gibberish -- but he felt compelled to respond when the trash-talking, future Hall of Fame power forward got so close to him that Garnett's lips nearly touched his cheek.

Blatche got in some taunts on the 33-year-old Garnett, calling him "washed up," along with some unprintable words of derision. But when the game concluded, Garnett left the court with the upper hand as he held Blatche without a field goal for the final six minutes and the Boston Celtics overcame a 13-point deficit to win, 86-83.

Afterward, Coach Flip Saunders criticized Blatche for "woofing" at Garnett, whom he coached for nearly 10 years in Minnesota. "You never want to let an opponent think they are getting to you mentally," Saunders said. "I've always believed, let your game tell your story. You never get a great player motivated, especially when they are getting older, you let them go."

Blatche initially shot back that he was simply defending himself. But if placed in a similar situation on Friday, when he returns to TD Garden, Blatche said he would take a different approach against Garnett.

"What happened last time, happened last time," Blatche said. "Me and Coach had a talk, so I'm going to do exactly what my coach asks of me. If he wants me to say nothing, I'm going to say nothing. I'm just going to go out and play my game and try to get us a win."

Garnett is a player Blatche respects, once admired and has drawn comparisons to since he entered the league out of high school in 2005. And ever since he took over as coach of the Wizards, Saunders has shared several Garnett tales with Blatche. But no matter how much the stories tend to irk Blatche, Saunders cannot move beyond the comparisons because Blatche has a rare skill set for his size, has learned to excel with some of the same offensive plays he used for Garnett and has taken a star turn in similar fashion.

During Saunders's first season in Minnesota -- which also happens to be the last time he finished a season and failed to reach the playoffs -- the Timberwolves reworked their roster, traded away several established veterans and decided to build around a 19-year-old rookie. And in his first season in Washington, the Wizards got rid of two former all-stars and a quality, established center only to watch the 23-year-old Blatche finally start to tap into so much of his unfulfilled potential.

"I didn't have any qualms," Saunders said of the deadline deals that shipped out Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, "because, being around him, I felt that he could respond to that. I knew he had that kind of ability."

In 28 games since the all-star break, Blatche has averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists, notched seven games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds and recorded 10 of his 14 double-doubles this season.

"I'm getting to a point where I'm beginning to come into my own," Blatche said. "I definitely feel the organization gave me a chance to prove that I am a great player. They left it up to me to take advantage of it and that's what I did. I don't really look at that comparison [to Garnett] no more."

Blatche said he expects his role will change next season with Gilbert Arenas returning, the Wizards getting a high lottery pick and possibly adding some quality upgrades in free agency. But he said he wouldn't stop working. "The main thing is don't get a big head," he said.

Saunders said he never had to yell at Garnett, but Blatche already has had a few run-ins with the coach this season. In January, he became one of the few players Saunders has ever suspended, and the two clashed again two weeks ago, when Blatche blew off Saunders during a game against Charlotte and sulked on the bench for the rest of the night.

Saunders sees it as part of Blatche's maturation process.

"In the long run, I want him to be successful and I think he can be successful. I'm not going to just give in to him because he's going to be stubborn. I can be more stubborn than him," Saunders said. "His biggest thing is, how is he going to deal with success? Part of the success he's having this season is because of how hard he worked last season. Now he's reaping the benefits of that. But do you use what you've done as a springboard for more success? Or do you become satisfied? I don't think he'll become satisfied, because I don't think we'll let him. We're going to make sure he keeps on working. Having spent some time with him in the summer, I discovered, when things are going pretty good, he can relax a little bit. You've got to keep a thumb on him all the time."

Blatche said he continues to learn from his mistakes and rarely repeats them. "The only way that I grew to being the player that I am is from things that I've been bad at," Blatche said. "I'm not doing the same mistakes over and over on the court."

And that includes ignoring Garnett, no matter how close he gets while talking smack. "That's old. That's in the past," Blatche said. "I'm going to do my job with a smile on my face."

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