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Steve Aschburner

One thing Glen "Big Baby" Davis normally won't do: Lie down on the job.
Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

In the playoffs, Boston's Big Baby becomes a man

Posted May 24 2010 9:59AM

WALTHAM, Mass. -- If stars are born in the NBA playoffs, it seems only proper that one of them might be a Big Baby.

Actually, Glen (Big Baby) Davis is a certain kind of playoff star. He's the role player who rises to the occasion, plays above his typical level, seizes special moments, blooms under the hottest, brightest lights ... and leaves people wondering why he doesn't play like that all the time.

Davis, the Boston Celtics' rumblin', tumblin' unstoppable force of a backup big man, has shown a knack in his first three professional seasons for playing well when everyone is watching. In the NBA, that means springtime, when this young man's fancy turns to thoughts of ... immortality?

"I just love to play the game of basketball, especially on the big stage," Davis said late Saturday night, after he led the Celtics with 17 points off the bench in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals but made an impact with his energy and activity that was bigger than that. Big Baby was more like Bigfoot stomping on a jelly doughnut as he chased down loose balls, scored opportunistic baskets, belly- or butt-bumped Orlando center Dwight Howard off his spots near the lane, pounded the boards and generally crowded the Magic to the side.

It was the kind of performance that wouldn't exactly get wasted had it occurred in Memphis in the middle of January. But it would not have generated nearly the reaction and attention.

"You realize that on a big stage, that's where legends are born," Davis said afterward, regaling a cluster of reporters with third-person references to himself (as in "Big Baby got to get dressed. Big Baby's hot. Big Baby got to wipe off now.").

"I'm a big fan of immortality," he said. "I like vampires and crazy stuff like that. I just love that big stage. That's where moments are made. People are always going to talk about that. That's how you live forever."

The large fellow does have a point. While a lot of young players want to grow up to be like Mike -- or now, Kobe or LeBron -- it is a pretty good thing simply to aspire to be like Robert Horry. Or Derek Fisher. Or Malik Rose. Or Steve Kerr. A handful of right plays at the right time can earn a guy a fistful of championship rings and a lifetime's worth of memories, sending the proverbial 15 minutes of fame into overtime.

Consider these numbers, as compiled by colleague John Schuhmann: In 199 regular-season games, Davis has scored 15 points or more 14 times. He has reached 17 on nine occasions and scored at least 20 four times. Yet in just 45 playoff games across three springs, Davis has scored 15 or more 10 times. He's been good for 17 points in eight games and has hit 20 or more six times.

Could it be that, with his propensity for coming through when it matters most, Big Baby is already enrolled in postseason-hero preschool?

"I wish you could predict it. I wish you could scout it," said Rivers, who got an inkling from Davis' NCAA tournament work for LSU. "There are guys -- like John Salley, if you remember, [who] was never a great regular-season [player] and then the playoffs would start and he'd make jump shots. With the Hawks [when facing Salley's Detroit Pistons teams], we were like, 'Where the heck is this coming from?'

"Robert Horry. There's a whole group of guys who have been able to do that. I'm hoping Baby's one of them."

Rivers stopped, catching himself. "I'm actually hoping he's not. I'm hoping he's good in the regular season, too."

There was a lot of hoping in the season just completed. Davis arrived 27 games late, missing the first two months due to surgery to repair his broken right thumb. The injury was as regrettable -- Davis punched a longtime friend while the two sat in his SUV -- as it was embarrassing, letting the Celtics down while undercutting any notions about his maturity. So did Davis' crude remark to a heckler during a game in Detroit in Janaury, his words picked up by radio and TV microphones.

The 6-foot-9, 295-pound native of Baton Rouge, La., said the right things afterward, but never convinced the Celtics there would not be a next time. "We call that the 'country con,' " Rivers said earlier in these playoffs. "He gives you that. It works the first five times, but after that it doesn't work any more. But he still does it and he actually means it.

"He's a pleaser. You stick with him when he makes mistakes because he wants to please you and to please the team, the fans. And in some ways that's what gets him into trouble, because he wants to please too many people."

Lately Davis has been pleasing his coaches and teammates with his defensive rotations, his willingness to do Boston's grunt work and a growing acceptance of his role. That's somewhat new, since he got flipped in and out of the starting lineup last year when Kevin Garnett was injured.

"The thing that I figured out, being a young player and being on a team so loaded, you've got to find your role and play your role to the max," Davis said. "I just bought into it. Bought into what Doc's saying, bought into what the team is saying. And just making sure I'm there for my teammates.

"My role is just being the energy guy. Making sure I play defense, get rebounds. Doc offensively lets me do what I want to do, hit the open jump shots. If I have a post, he lets me do that. At the same time, he makes me still remember my role and what I'm capable of doing. I'm capable of setting a great pick. You realize that if you set a great pick, you're going to be open, because your man is going to guard the guy you set a pick for."

Davis is a banging example, too, of the idea that width can be just as important as height in basketball. By controlling the air space above his broad ... well, broad everything, Big Baby functions much like Charles Barkley, Rose and other wide-bodies have when confronted by taller foes.

"I just try to use my body to my advantage," Davis said. "Use my quick feet and my quick hands. Contest late. Try to use what little jumping ability I've got. That's all. When you're guarding a guy 6-10, 6-11, 7-foot, you can't worry about in-the-air. You have to worry about everything below. He has to bring the ball up to get in the air, so stick your hand in there. Bother him. Touch him here, touch him there. Make sure he's frustrated."

Davis gave himself up for a pivotal charging call on Miami's Dwyane Wade in the first round. In the second, he helped Kendrick Perkins battle inside against Shaquille O'Neal and other Cleveland big men. Now he's one of the Celtics' bigs who has stymied Dwight Howard. He also has chipped in the small stuff, diving into the first row to save a loose ball late in the first half. On another possession, Davis wreaked enough havoc that three Magic players -- Jameer Nelson, Marcin Gortat and Vince Carter -- wound up on the floor after contact with him. Think 3-7-10 split, with Big Baby as the Brunswick.

"The one thing I can say about Baby is he's going to play hard every night," Paul Pierce said before the Celtics' workout Sunday. "Consistency may not be there with the scoring every night because we have so many scorers but, as far as his play and how he's approaching every game, that's going to be consistent. How he dives for balls, how he boxes out and plays defense."

Kevin Garnett chuckled when I asked if the Celtics know what they can count on from Davis night in, night out. "As much as I want to say 'Yeah,' every night it's a different role for Baby," Garnett said. "When the attention is drawn to other guys, he has chances where he can get in there and score a lot. He can get easy looks. On the defensive end, he's always connected. Definitely a force on the boards. And he's pure energy ... He comes in there, he gets that garbage, he picks up those balls, he's diving in the crowd."

It's becoming almost a Groundhog Day sort of thing: If Big Baby perks up and dives into somebody's lap in the front row, that's a sure sign of spring around the Celtics.

"If you're going to perk up," Garnett said, "you'd rather it be now than later, right?"

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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