A Daily Babble Production
The realization finally hit me Thursday night that I have hit a turning point with Glen Davis. That's because the Infuriated Infant took seven jumpers out of his eight shots for the game, missing all but one, and it didn't make me the least bit angry.
When the Celtics beat the Magic two weeks ago, I wrote that the Terrifying Toddler's 16-point game (6-for-8 from the field) was cause for cautious optimism but could hardly be declared a turning point on the spot. It was an impressive game, but in my eyes, it hardly wiped out the fact that Davis was taking a maddening portion of his shots away from the basket (61 percent) and hitting very few of them (less than 30 percent on the season at the time). That night in Orlando, Baby showed us a glimpse of how complete a game he can play, attacking inside, hitting from the outside and playing defense. But it was one game of many, and some wariness of getting too high too quickly seemed in order.
But something really cool happened in the two weeks from that Orlando game to the loss to Los Angeles this past Thursday: The Pugnacious Papoose proceeded to play the best ball of his career.
The Orlando game kick-started a stretch over which Davis seemed to do a bit of everything well. He showed a willingness to bang inside and go up strong to the bucket, and he coupled that with increased effectiveness on his mid-range jumper, spraying in shots from the elbows and short corners. He posted double-figure scoring efforts four times in the six contests prior to the LA game, two more times than he had previously done so this season. He shot 50 percent or better from the field in all but one of those games.
The large fellow made himself a threat on the glass as well. He chased down multiple offensive rebounds four times during the aforementioned six-game stretch, and he never took a play off from working for loose balls. This was particularly evident with the Celtics trailing late in the fourth quarter on Tuesday in Philadelphia. Ray Allen rushed a three and hit nothing but air, but Davis caught the ball on the left block. He threw it outside to Paul Pierce, who flung up another three, only to have the Baby chase it down near the right elbow. With a new shot clock, the Celtics worked the ball around, and fittingly, the ball found Davis' hands outside that right elbow. He canned the jumper to keep the Celtics within striking distance.
That ever-present hustle along with increased confidence and production defined the last two weeks for Davis. While he still battled foul problems and the occasional lapse on a defensive rotation, he worked his tail off at both ends of the floor and gave the C's plenty of good 'D' as well. When Kevin Garnett sat with the flu, Davis stepped up with consecutive 12-point games in his two starts, recording his first career double-double against Philadelphia. He played 42 minutes in that game and didn't take a breather in the second half. Despite a miserable 1-for-12 effort in Toronto in mid-January, he still managed to shoot 48.1 percent from the field for the month, easily his best of the season.
The coaching staff showed faith in the Nasty Newborn, and he delivered time and again. He finally looked smooth and confident taking his jump shot (though he is still only posting a 33.2 effective field goal percentage on jumpers this season, that's a significant improvement from what he was shooting only a few weeks earlier), and the rest of his game was falling into place.
Fast forward to Thursday night's nail-biter. With all of the above in mind, the only complaint that seemed fair about Davis' play that night was that this time around, the jumpers didn't find the bottom of the basket. And that's the only one I had.
It didn't bother me one bit that he arrived on the floor rather than the playing-well-that-night Leon Powe after Kevin Garnett fouled out with four minutes to play. Forgetting the facts that Powe's appearance would have given the Celtics no one who could even pretend to provide an away-from-the-basket shooting threat outside Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and that his presence wouldn't have necessarily guaranteed a win, it's worth remembering that sometimes there is simply a bigger picture to consider for the coaching staff.
Glen Davis earned the opportunity to play those minutes. He did everything his coaches and teammates could have asked of him for several games and at least temporarily established himself as the primary back-up big while Powe struggled. There is something important to be said for coaches showing confidence in their players and rewarding them for their good work. Sure, this was a game the Celtics would have loved to have, but it wasn't June. Perhaps in the spring, riding the hot hand of the moment will be the way to go. But this was the fifth of February. Providing some consistency in the way he treats his players and showing some faith in an emotional young player who had spent the last few weeks playing his best ball could be worth far more for Doc Rivers in the long run than trying to win that game with Powe would have been.
I enjoyed it when Davis spent the weeks after my "cautious optimism" piece knocking down jumpers at a rate previously unseen. It would be disingenuous to turn around and crucify him for taking those same shots just because he happened to go cold at the wrong time. Just about every one Thursday night's shots was a clean look at the basket from a distance at which Baby has been hitting of late. I loved seeing his coach and teammates keep going back to him, and I loved the poise he showed in knocking down his seventh attempt of the night (after six misses) to give the Celtics a one-point lead with a shade more than a minute to play in overtime.
Of course, I would have loved it all more if a few of those earlier shots had gone in the hoop. But they didn't, and that happens sometimes in this game. Meanwhile, the missing didn't affect his will to keep hanging tough in other facets of the game. He rebounded one of his own missed jumpers and made perhaps the hustle play of the game at the other end, knocking a loose ball out from between Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and then chasing it down at halfcourt all the way from inside the Lakers' foul line. The hustle and energy were there as always. There was nothing wrong with the decision-making on his jump shots. They just didn't go down. So goes basketball.
Glen Davis earned the chance to be on the floor when the Celtics lost Kevin Garnett at crunch time on Thursday. It didn't turn out as we would have liked, but the composure he showed and the faith he received from his coach and teammates provided signs of encouragement for fans of the green.