Posted Jun 11 2010 9:57AM
BOSTON -- Uninclined to push their luck, the Boston Celtics sent their heavy lifters down the sideline to check into the game at the next possible opportunity. Time was dwindling, the score was tightening and the Celtics' marvelous crew of reserves -- specifically, Glen "Big Baby" Davis, Nate Robinson, Tony Allen and Rasheed Wallace -- had given their side all that anyone in green had a right to expect.
There was a little matter of protocol, too. Coming back late in games -- not just any game, but Game 4 of the 2010 Finals, Thursday at TD Garden -- is what starters do. Marquee guys get mega-millions money mostly for fourth quarters and postseasons. This was both. It was time.
Only it wasn't. Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach, was moving down the sideline as his team set up at the far end. At that instant, Robinson zig-zagged into the lane and put up a runner from nine feet. It dropped, the arena quaked, Rivers spun on his heels back toward the bench. And so did Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, pumping their fists and -- at 83-74, 4:22 to go -- celebrating exactly like the folks way upstairs.
Watching the players who usually sit was fun, even for those who typically play. Both the lead, and the Boston bench's proverbial 15 minutes of fame, were extended, the latter to a literal 9:09.
That's how long they stuck around in the fourth quarter, taking the Celtics from what had been a 62-60 deficit to an 85-79 lead before Pierce, Garnett and Rajon Rondo checked back in. "Subbed" back in is a better way to put it, because roles most definitely had been reversed as the Celtics evened the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
"It was beautiful to watch, just being a cheerleader on the sideline," Pierce said later.
Said Rivers of calling back his starters: "They were fine. We were cheering. This is a good team. I don't think guys really care, and that's what makes us -- that's why we're here. ... Hell, Rondo and all of them, they were begging me to keep guys in."
Of Boston's 25 points in that pivotal 9:09, Davis (nine), Robinson (six), Tony Allen and Wallace (three each) scored 21. Ray Allen was out there almost to chaperone. They did it primarily against the Lakers' starters, too; L.A. coach Phil Jackson didn't like what his backups were giving, already was down Andrew Bynum and ended up playing Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher to the point of gassed.
Asked later to talk about his defensive strategy for coping with Davis' rolling thunder and Robinson's caffeinated pace, Jackson countered with: "No, I don't want to talk about that." Advantage Celtics, again.
Later, Jackson did talk about Boston's "animation and activity," which in this game could have been upper-cased as nicknames for Davis and Robinson. And at a time of year when benches get measured against other benches for some X-factor impact, the Celtics' subs went way overboard: Their 21 points in that fourth quarter matched what the Lakers' starters scored.
So when Jackson also said, "Their bench outplayed us," he really did mean "us."
"It was just their energy," Rivers said. "I thought we were lacking that in that one stretch."
Jeff Van Gundy, on the ABC broadcast, said Robinson was "emotionally drunk," the feisty guard was so amped. Earlier in the fourth, after Davis cleaned up Tony Allen's miss for a 10-2 run to 70-64 with 8:22 left, little Nate leaped onto Baby's back and the two of them screamed and mugged like pro wrestlers.
The downside of all that was a breach of Rivers' team rule against technical fouls in the final quarter -- Wallace, whose DNA is spelled with a T, got one at 7:25 for an outraged dance away from a ref and Robinson earned another at 5:39 by staring at and daring Lamar Odom after Odom's hard foul. Live by the adrenaline, die by the adrenaline. But the Lakers missed both free throws, so ... live by it. Thrive on it.
The Celtics' biggest problem in The Finals through three games had been syncing up the Big Three (or Four) to play well on the same night. No one anticipated that a solution might come, at least so dramatically, from some Other Three (or Four). All those longer minutes from unexpected sources threw off L.A.'s matchups, too, so it wasn't just energy. Wallace bothered Gasol, Davis steamrolled Odom and Tony Allen was an extra pest on Bryant.
"I don't think what we did was really on the scouting report," Davis said. "It was a lot of just will and determination and seizing the moment."
Said Robinson: "Just play as hard as you can for as long as you can. ... That's what we try to do when we're in there. ... The world is just opening their eyes now to see how we've been playing."
Davis and Robinson, after giving first-string performances on the floor, did the same thing in the interview room, enjoying the attention. Told that Rivers had determined to yank them if the lead had shrunk to six -- right before that Robinson runner at 4:22 -- the two Celtics subs went into a comedy routine.
Davis: "I was really looking at the clock like, when is he going to come get me?"
Robinson: "I was thinking the same thing."
Davis: "We're playing, but the timeout go by, he don't sub. I was like, 'Man, he's letting us roll.'"
Robinson: "It was fun. It was fun today."
Davis: "I want to give Doc a hug, man. I love Doc."
More important, Doc loves them. Doc, the rest of the Celtics and folks in Boston.
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