In the end, for the Celtics, it was both the "biggest" man and the smallest man who turned the tide in Game 4 of the 2010 NBA Finals. And while their physical statures might not have resemble one another's, Glen Davis and Nate Robinson's respective games certainly did.
Both men boast spectacular basketball skills, and mixed in with the athletic ability, the footwork, and the ball handling is an immeasurable hustle factor, that, when adequately tapped into, can spell sheer doom for opposing players and teams not willing to elicit the necessary counter-effort in return. Such was the case last night, as Davis and Robinson led a fourth quarter bench brigade that went toe-to-toe with five of Los Angeles's six best players, held its ground, and eventually set up the well-rested starters with a golden chance to put the game away.
Trailing 62-60 with 12 minutes to play, Davis and Robinson joined the trio of Ray Allen, Tony Allen, and Rasheed Wallace, and, in different stages, went to work against the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Derek Fisher, and Lamar Odom. But no matter which lineup LA went with, it was unable to counter the effort, the energy, and the effectiveness of Boston's pine guys, along with a recovering Ray Allen, who took baby steps in returning to form after his ghastly 0-13 performance from the field in Game 3. Allen made just four of his 11 shots, but two of those came early in the fourth; one a reverse layup with 10:31 to play, and the second a free-throw line jumper with 8:57 remaining, which put Boston up 68-64.
Then, with 8:34 to play, after Ray blocked a shot attempt from Gasol, a mad scramble for the ball ensued, culminating in Farmar crashing somewhat violently to the floor, Ray coming up with the ball, moving it down court, feeding a slashing Tony Allen, who missed the open layup and seemed to kill the sudden momentum. But in flew Davis, who gobbled up one of his four offensive rebounds, and put the ball back in, while managing to draw the foul on Lamar Odom in the process, which set up one of the more iconic (or, ionic, as Menino would say) moments of the evening.
Davis turned away from the basket and marched towards half court, emitting a series of primal roars that would have caused the Incredible Hulk to grow a tail, just to he could stick it between his legs and hope to scanter away unnoticed. Robinson leaped onto Davis's back for good measure, the pair exuding an endless energy - and about a pint of all-natural drool - that had already been on display for most of the evening. Robinson already had two three-pointers in the first half under his belt, along with his now customary joint celebrations with the crowd, which are threatening to put Lucky, the Celtics' mascot, out of a job. Davis already had a three-point play to his name, as with 9:11 remaining the second quarter, he set a screen for Paul Pierce, promptly rolled to the basket, took Pierce's pass and bowled into Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, while still managing to put the ball in the bucket. After Davis shrugged Robinson off of his back, he buried the free throw, putting Boston up 71-62, capping off a 9-0 run.
Fortunately, for Boston, all five guys contributed, as Tony Allen converted a three-point play of his own less than a minute after Davis's, which gave Boston a 74-66 advantage with 7:46 to play. Robinson then drove right and put in a finger roll, which was followed up by Wallace burying a deep three from the top of the arc, giving Boston a nine-point edge at 79-70 with 6:18 left.
They weren't without their flaws, however. Before Wallace drilled his three-pointer he was assessed a technical foul with 7:25 left after Kobe drove on him towards the rim. Wallace yelled in protest, spun away from the officials, and marched away in anger, eventually causing the ABC producers to set a new Guinness World Record for "Longest Time Pressing Down the "Bleep" Button on Live, National Television". Seriously, it was like you muted your TV for a good 15 or 20 seconds. Are you happy, Helen Lovejoy? Someone finally thought of the children.
And while one player breaking Doc Rivers's rule regarding no technical fouls in the fourth quarter might have seemed like enough, Robinson wasn't finished. After a foul on Odom sent Robinson sprawling to the floor, he got back to his feet and stared up into Odom's face - which the officials didn't appreciate - and was assessed a tech of his own. Fortunately, for Wallace and Robinson, both Kobe and Fisher missed the technical free throws, so no damage was done, and Doc appeared to be in a forgiving mood afterward.
But with these issues popping up, along with other problems, like Tony Allen jacking up that ill-advised three-pointer with three minutes left, why did Doc stay with this lineup for so long? They played the first 9:10 of the fourth quarter. Kevin Garnett had ventured towards and retreated from the scorer's table twice in that time frame. For several moments it seemed quite plausible that the unit would actually finish the game. Why stick with them? Because the formula was working. The way they were playing was working. They were attacking on both sides of the ball, they were scoring points, getting stops (TA's strip of Kobe with 4:34 left comes to mind), asserting themselves on the glass (LA missed Andrew Bynum in this department), and playing with a sense of passion and purpose that LA was unable to match. After the game, Davis talked about feeling like a beast in the fourth quarter, and in the case of the Lakers, when guys like Davis are coming at you on offense harder than you are willing to defend, you're bound to suffer. It was the hustle, the energy, and the intensity, and even the passionate emotions that garnered those technical fouls that ultimately led to the production on the court. And that production eventually made all the difference in last night's ballgame. And as a result, this series is tied, and the Celtics are just two wins away from their second championship in the past three seasons.
In the end, Boston's bench accounted for 36 points and 12 rebounds, with Davis (18 points, nine in the fourth quarter), and Robinson (12 points, six in the fourth quarter) combining for 30 of those points and seven of those rebounds.
Afterwards, while speaking to reporters, Robinson said of he and Davis: "We were like Shrek and Donkey." Such a statement was appropriate, as, in the aftermath of one of Robinson's two buckets in the final frame, when he turned to celebrate with the crowd, I could have sworn I heard him proclaim: "If we win, I'm making waffles!"