We know all about the Celtics leadership via a group affectionately known as “The Big Three”, but after Thursday night perhaps it’s time we start concerning ourselves more with the pairing of “Shrek and Donkey”.
That is the moniker that Nate Robinson applied to the duo of himself and Glen “Big Baby” Davis – the same duo that was responsible for winning the Celtics Game 4 and tying the series.
Branding themselves after a bruising ogre and his chattering sidekick seems fitting. After all, Davis’ relentless work down low seemed monstrous enough as he bowled and brawled his way to 18 points on a mere 10 shots, adding five rebounds (four of them offensive) for good measure.
The fiery Robinson was no slouch himself. He poured in 12 points on just eight shots while still performing admirably controlling the ball, evidenced by his committing just one turnover in 17 minutes.
And certainly he was his usual emotional self as he picked up a technical for getting in Lamar Odom’s face after being knocked down.
These unlikely heroes didn’t go from Far Far Away of course, but instead their fairy tale’s roots came from the middle of the Celtics’ bench. Their terrific play was the primary reason Boston’s reserves outscored the Lakers’ 36-18.
The game itself seemed to turn on a dime.
With just over a minute to go in the third quarter, Kobe Bryant hit three consecutive 3-pointers to give the Lakers a 62-58. A putback by Davis moved Boston to within two heading into the fourth quarter, but with Boston’s backups on the court to start the final frame, Phil Jackson gambled to go for the kill and left his starters in to try and push the Laker advantage.
Needless to say, Boston’s bench had other plans.
Whether it was because Bryant (43 minutes), Pau Gasol (44 minutes) and Ron Artest (42 minutes) were exhausted or simply that the energy and hustle of the Celtic bench overwhelmed them, the results were clear. After Davis and Gasol traded baskets to start the fourth, Boston ripped off nine unanswered points in a blink of an eye to push their advantage to seven with 8:22 left.
The bench domination doesn’t tell the whole story for Boston though. There are of course the small matters of their fast-break advantage (15 points to the Lakers’ 2), points in the paint (54 to 34) and offensive rebounding (16 to 8). It does not take a Hubie Brown-level basketball IQ to understand that if you dominate in transition, outscore you opponent inside despite giving up size, and rule over second-chance points, you should win handily.
To their credit, the Lakers did not roll over entirely after the Davis and Robinson-led assault. Bryant scored 10 of the Lakers’ last 12 points once the Celtic starters reentered the game and managed to cut the Boston lead to six with 32 seconds to go before turning it over for a full-court lay-in that put the game to bed.
Bryant was much more efficient in his scoring than he had been in Game 4, scoring 33 points on 22 shots, but he did not take care of the ball well at all, evidenced by his seven turnovers. Whether or not that was due to his handling the ball more with Derek Fisher sitting out more than usual is difficult to say, but clearly he needs to do a better job in Game 5 on Sunday.
Also pivotal for the Lakers on Sunday will be the availability of Andrew Bynum. The injured Laker center was only able to give his team 12 minutes in Game 4, none of them coming after half. It is fair to suggest that his absence had a lot to do with the way Davis was able to work the offensive glass down the stretch.
Bynum’s knee is certain to not get better before the end of the series, so the task will likely fall to Odom to keep Davis and Kendrick Perkins off the glass, something he failed to do Thursday.
It may not take the Lakers’ calling in a Big Bad Wolf or assembling their torches and pitchforks to chase away the new Celtics twosome, but they will certainly be on notice heading into Game 5 that this Boston team is about much more than just their big name starters.