The Infant and the Jumper

A Daily Babble Production

That loss to the Lakers paid its biggest dividend yet last night in Orlando.

Back on February 5, the Celtics suffered perhaps their most painful loss of the regular season, a 110-109 overtime decision to the purple and gold.  In that game, the Nasty Newborn shot just 1-for-8 from the field, missing six of his seven shots outside the paint.  Four of those attempts came in the final 90 seconds of the fourth quarter and beyond.

Glen Davis was on the court that late in the game due to Kevin Garnett fouling out and what some considered Doc Rivers' curious decision to go away from Leon Powe, who had played effectively off the bench that night.  Baby missing jumper after jumper proved a sight for sore eyes.

But as I wrote three days later, there was a method to the coaching decision, and it offered a major sign for encouragement. 

Early this season, there was hardly a shot I wanted to see less from the Celtics than Big Baby Davis shooting a mid-range jumper (save for perhaps Perk from 40 feet).  He came out shooting to start the 2008-09 campaign and shooting badly at that.  At one particularly low point before the turn of the calendar, Davis had posted an effective field goal mark of less than 24 percent on his jumpers for the season.  I complained that he was forcing shots that he didn't need to be taking on this team and was hurting the productivity of the bench in the process. 

Oh, what little I knew about what was to come.

By the time that February game with the Lakers rolled around, there was plenty of evidence developing in support of the value of the work Davis put into his game and his shooting.  Two weeks beforehand, he busted out for a 6-for-8 performance en route to 16 points while playing fine defense on Dwight Howard in Orlando, and he followed that game with perhaps the finest prolonged stretch of his career to that point.  Here's what I wrote after the Lakers game:

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.

[...]

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.

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.

That night against the Lakers, the defining image wasn't the Pugnacious Papoose missing all those shots.  It was his coach showing the confidence to keep him on the floor in that spot and his teammates trusting him enough to keep giving him the ball.  We saw Davis continue to shoot the ball with the same mechanics, with the same lack of hesitation that had been helping him to success over the two weeks prior.  We saw a glimpse of what that added confidence can do when he knocked down his one shot late in the first overtime despite having missed his first six.  A month before, he wouldn't have had the faith in his shooting or felt the trust from his team to make that play on such a rough night.

As disappointing a game as the LA loss must have been for Large Baby, it was a night that demonstrated how much progress he had made and how far his coach and team had come in their willingness to rely on him.

Eddie House talked after Game 2 of this Orlando series about just how important confidence is to shooting.  We've been seeing Baby reap the dividends of that confidence for the last few months.  The All-Star break came a week after the Lakers game, and Davis shot 48 percent from the field after that point (compared to 40.6 percent prior).  He hit several late-game shots both around the rim and away from it in the regular season and the Chicago series.

Last night, with the Celtics playing in something that seemed quite close to a must-win, despite missing five foul shots, Davis continued to shoot - and hit- from mid-range.  With the game hanging in the balance, he stepped right into two shots in the final minute, both with the Celtics trailing by one.  The first came from the left elbow with 32 seconds remaining.  The second came off a screen-and-roll on the left wing as time expired.  Both featured the exact same smooth mechanics and a complete lack of hesitation.  Swish.  Celtics by one.  Swish.  Celtics win.

If you told me in December that Glen Davis would win a playoff game for the Celtics from mid-range, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed you out of the room.  If you had made the same claim this week, it would have been totally believable.  And perhaps that's the coolest part: just how far Big Baby has come.

***

It's late, and I'm still in a state of semi-shock about this buzzer-beating business, so we'll promise a rain check on the Game 4 bullets for tomorrow.  Plenty to chat about then, including my growing annoyance with Rajon Rondo's defensive habits, why Mikki Moore makes me violently angry, the fact that the Baby was far from perfect last night (despite his heroics) and the great Paul Pierce, who couldn't miss for most of the second half and then made a fantastic decision on the game's final play.

Best-of-three, two games in Boston.  Let's roll the dice.

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