Posted Jun 10 2010 9:21AM
BOSTON -- The debate about the best pure athlete in the NBA usually centers on guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Josh Smith, physical marvels with the ability to do things that even their peers -- by most accounts the best collection of athletic specimens on the planet -- only dream of doing.
Colorful Lakers forward Ron Artest introduced a new candidate for debate Wednesday, when he spent six confusing minutes trying to explain why he's so impressed with Glen "Big Baby" Davis, the Celtics' 6-foot-9, 289-pound bulldozer in baggy shorts.
The gist, after three rugged games in these NBA Finals of trading elbows and body blocks with Big Baby, is that Artest swears he's never seen a man this big, this nimble, this skilled or this versatile on a basketball court or anywhere else.
"He should have been a football player and a basketball player," Artest said before going on, "basketball, too, and a boxer. What about rugby? Tennis, a bodyguard, a bouncer, he definitely should bounce ... he's just a great athlete."
And unique in a league filled with versatile athletes.
Davis is also a great fit for the Celtics off the bench. During a series in which the Celtics haven't had their celebrated Big Three-plus one of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo put it together simultaneously, Davis has led a bench crew that's kept the Celtics in the thick of all three games.
Averaging 7.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in his 20 minutes per game, Davis has provided the kind of energy and production off the bench that has helped sustain the Celtics through a series they trail 2-1 heading into Thursday's ultra critical Game 4 at TD Garden.
He's come a long way from the struggles he experienced earlier this season. Celtics' management and coach Doc Rivers were upset when Davis broke his right thumb fighting with a childhood friend just two days before the season opener, a transgression that earned him a suspension.
This is the same Davis who barked at a heckling fan during a road game in Detroit in January and was suspended for a game by the league and admonished by Rivers for being childish. "Glen Davis has to grow up," Rivers said then.
His performance during this postseason, and particularly these first three games of the Finals, is proof that Davis is ready to permanently retire at least one of his nicknames. ("Big Baby" has to go. but the "Ticket Stub" must remain.) Davis continues to serve as the rock on the court and the surprising voice of reason off of it. He's doing it in the midst of a wicked rivalry capable of consuming even the most level-headed of participants, too.
How'd he deal with the disappointment of the Celtics dropping Game 3 on their home floor?
"I got some sleep," he said. "I watched the film over and over again, I kept rewinding it. I didn't make bedtime until probably like [3 a.m.]"
What Davis said he saw on film would have been fodder for disciplinary action against the Big Baby. But not the new and improved Glen Davis.
"The refs are some special people," Davis said smiling. "They're one of a kind, and it's hard to be them. I wouldn't want to be them at all ... there's a lot of things that come into the game of basketball that you have to deal with, but the refs have to take it from everybody."
Davis is getting universal love these days from just about everybody; friends, foes likes Artest, and even his own coach.
With Game 3, and potentially this series and the Celtics' season on the line in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, Rivers went with Davis instead of Perkins. Davis responded with a team-high eight points, making all three of his shots, though he was unable to outduel Lakers' late-game hero Derek Fisher.
When asked if there was something wrong with Perkins or if he just liked what Davis was giving his team, Rivers didn't hesitate.
"Baby was playing well," Rivers said. "No conspiracy. Baby was playing well."
Fine, so maybe we won't retire the nickname. But all the baggage that comes with it appears to have vanished for this one-of-a-kind young athlete.
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