The Celtics had finally arisen from a deep slumber, and an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Phoenix Suns had been cut to just nine points. The Celtics earned a defensive stop, and Nate Robinson corralled the rebound. With the momentum of a snowball rolling downhill, the Celtics raced toward their offensive end. The Celtics had a three-on-two fast break, looking to trim the deficit even further.
But Robinson decided to pull up for an off-balance 25-foot three-pointer, rather than finding an easy look. Bill Walton called it the worst shot in Celtics franchise history, and the snowball of momentum hit a thick brick wall. The Suns scored a layup on their next possession, and, one play after that, the Celtics imploded and Kevin Garnett was ejected from the game. I sat on my couch with a dazed look on my face, until I finally mustered my best "mother from Home Alone" voice and screamed: "NATE!"
Robinson, the object of my disdain against Phoenix, would go on to perform random acts of greatness against LA. He then batted one for two against Sacramento -- one miserable half filled with lumps of coal, followed by a redeeming half filled with lollipops and rainbows. But the inconsistency, and the bad shot selection, continued.
At this point of the season, sadly, Robinson reminds me of my first time skiing last year. I looked down the mountain, and wasn't sure I'd make it down in one piece. I teetered on the verge of falling down at all times, and was a threat to anyone on the slopes. I wasn't always in control, didn't always look like I knew what I was doing, and scared the life out of anyone who saw me. But every once in a while I'd make a perfect turn, and my skis would be perfectly parallel, and my uncle -- teaching me how to ski -- wondered: "If only he could do that every time."
And that's the frustrating part of Robinson's game. He's capable of that perfect turn. There are times when he's passing down contested shots, shooting the open ones, and scoring in the flow of the offense. There are times, like against LA, when Robinson can completely change a game in Boston's favor. There are times, like the second half in Sacramento, when his energy alone is enough to validate the amount of minutes he plays. But there are also times when it all falls apart, and the video pans to Doc Rivers on the sideline, and Doc's head is shaking left to right, and Doc's holding his face in his hands, and Doc's reaction mirrors my own, except I'm also furiously howling at my TV screen.
After the Lakers game, Rivers admitted that he thought about sitting Robinson entirely.
"Honestly, I was going back and forth on whether to play [Robinson] at all," Rivers told ESPN Boston. "But he was huge for us."
Maybe, in time, Rivers' back-and-forth will result in Robinson earning some DNP-CDs. Maybe, when Delonte West returns, Robinson will be relegated almost solely to the pine. At times I think that's the best course of action. But just when I think Robinson can't possibly be any dumber, he goes and does something like he did in LA, and totally redeems himself.
It's not so easy to dismiss Robinson from the rotation entirely. He's not a Brian Scalabrine type, who provides almost nothing even on a good day. He's capable of changing a game, capable of scoring buckets in bunches, capable of being a real weapon. After all, he scored 17.2 points per game just two years ago, and actually did so quite efficiently. But there's been something missing lately. Robinson's shooting percentages have fallen off a cliff, and his shot selection -- not his strongest suit to begin with -- seems to get worse by the second.
Of the Celtics, he talks to Nate Robinson the most often. The two hail from the Seattle area and have known each other since Bradley was in high school. They also sat next to each other in the Celtics locker room.
"He’s been telling me to play hard, just get my game back," Bradley said. "That’s the main thing, just get my confidence back. He just told me to go out here and play hard. The main thing is my confidence level, that’s what he was so worried about."
If Robinson's so worried about Bradley's confidence level, perhaps those worries stem from Robinson's own shaky confidence. I'm just guessing here, of course, but low confidence could help explain Robinson's growing pile of misses. It could also, in a strange way, explain why he's begun taking so many bad shots. When I was a sophomore in high school, I didn't play much for my team. My coach didn't have much confidence in me, and so my self-esteem dwindled. You would think that would cause me to become gun shy. You'd be drastically wrong.
I fired away. When I missed, I fired some more, and then my coach would angrily sub me out -- at which time I'd begin visualizing about the next time I could fire. Shooting became reflexive. If I was going to play without self-belief, I was at least going to act like I did have belief. The only problem with my trigger-happy technique was this: the misses piled up, far more than they should have for a shooter as capable as myself. I kept shooting, as if in denial of my own lack of confidence, but the lack of confidence was still there. I could not shake it, and -- as I shot tougher, quicker shots, while attempting to push away my confidence issues -- I missed more and more often, and I found myself inching further into my coach's doghouse.
Which is why Doc Rivers' job, when it comes to coaching Nate Robinson, isn't easy. In lieu of recent events, benching Robinson when West returns seems almost natural. But to bench Robinson means you won't ever receive the fruits of his labor. You won't have the days when he singlehandedly changes games in Boston's favor. You won't have a miniature weapon off the bench, who can, on a good day, light up the scoreboard like few other bench players can.
So yeah, benching Robinson might seem like a good option right now. But the Celtics would be better off if he can, somehow, find a way to play to his potential on a more consistent basis.