BOSTON -- Somehow it makes perfect sense that this would be the next strange turn the NBA Finals would take, with the two biggest misfits in the building yucking it up on the interview stage like Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd. There they were, two wild and crazy guys steering this rollicking series around the next corner, into the unknown.
The show that Glen Davis and Nate Robinson put on after the game was nothing compared to what they'd done on the court: Robinson hitting 3-pointers, exhorting the crowd and diving on the floor for loose balls. Davis, drooling and slobbering while celebrating another crucial fourth-quarter basket with Robinson, his sidekick, climbing on his back.
"We're like Shrek and Donkey," Robinson said after the Celtics' bench of castoffs outplayed the Lakers' starters for most of the fourth quarter as Boston beat L.A. 96-89 on Thursday night to even the best-of-7 series at 2-2. "You can't separate us."
Davis smiled. In the truest words ever typed by an NBA postgame stenographer, he said, "You shouldn't have let us two get up here."
There was a time not too long ago when such an occurrence would've generated 1,000-1 odds in Las Vegas. This was the same Robinson who was unloaded on the Celtics by a Knicks team that was tired of his showboating, insincere act -- champion of the slam dunk contest, conqueror of Las Vegas Summer League but little else. And it was the same Davis who played down to his "Big Baby" nickname two nights before the season opener, when he got into a fight over a girl in a moving SUV.
Robinson hadn't hurt anybody, besides those who looked at his talent and were sad that he was wasting it. But Davis, overwhelmed by poor judgment and selfishness, fractured his thumb in the scuffle, letting his team down and landing on the sideline for two months.
Rivers got the phone call at 3 a.m., hours before the Celtics were scheduled to open the season in Cleveland. There are never any good phone calls at 3 a.m.
Game 4: Celtics 96, Lakers 89
Notes: Rondo's critical steal
|Schedule and Results|
Game 1: Lakers 102, Celtics 89
Game 2: Celtics 103, Lakers 94
Game 3: Lakers 91, Celtics 84
Game 4: Celtics 96, Lakers 89
Game 5: 8 p.m. ET - Sunday, June 13 (Boston)
Game 6: 9 p.m. ET - Tuesday, June 15 (L.A.)
Game 7: 9 p.m. ET - Thursday, June 17 (L.A.)
"I had already known the story," Rivers said on the walk from the interview room to the locker room, a coach now toe-to-toe once again with the great Phil Jackson in the Finals. "And I called Baby in the morning and he wanted to go another route at first. I told him, 'I actually do know what went on.' He was crying. He was emotional. He knew he was in trouble. He knew what had happened. What I kept reminding him of was, 'You've got one name for the rest of your life. And that's your reputation. And then you have the responsibility to the team.'
"But he was great," Rivers said. "He apologized to everybody, and in some ways that's helped him. That didn't help us, but it helped him. And in the long run, it probably helped us, too."
Davis and Robinson, cauldrons of emotion, helped the Celtics send this series to this rightful, delightful place -- tied 2-2 and heading back to Los Angeles no matter what happens in Game 5 on Sunday in Boston. Davis had 18 points, five rebounds and a half-cup of slobber. Robinson had 12 points in 16:50 as the Celtics' bench outscored the Lakers' reserves 36-18.
The turning point was the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, when Rivers rode this band of oddballs from a two-point deficit (62-60) to as much as an 11-point lead (85-74 with 3:57 left). Through it all, the Celtics' bench was the loudest it has been all season, only the bench players were nowhere near it.
"It was our starters cheering from the bench," Rivers said. "I thought it was terrific."
Davis and Robinson were joined by Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen and starter Ray Allen to start the fourth against Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown. The two-point deficit had become a six-point lead by the time Derek Fisher and Ron Artest checked back in with 8:22 left. Doc stuck with his bench.
He stuck with them through back-to-back three-point plays by Davis and Tony Allen. Stuck with them through technical fouls by Wallace and Robinson, and through a driving scoop shot by Robinson and a 3-pointer by Wallace that made it 79-70 Celtics with 6:18 left.
"Unfortunately, it's our most emotional group when you have Nate, Tony and Rasheed on the floor at the same time," Rivers said. "So the techs happen. ... We have a no-fourth-quarter-techs rule, which was blown out of the water today."
|'We're like Shrek and Donkey,' Nate Robinson says of his relationship with Glen Davis. (Getty Images)|
Moments after Robinson hit the free throws, Garnett and Pierce went to the scorer's table. Rivers, coaching as much with instinct as brains now, called them back.
"Told them to go sit down," Rivers said. "It was a scoring matter for me. All I was doing was looking at the score. If it became a two-possession game -- so six points was my number -- I told my coaches, 'At the six-minute mark, six points is the number.' ... My concern was, with the bench, could we get enough baskets to put the game away?"
It didn't happen until 2:51 left in the game, a nine-minute surge by the Celtics' reserves. With Bryant at the line about to make two free throws and cut it to Rivers' number, 85-79, he sent Garnett, Pierce and Rondo in to finish it off. Pierce, finally getting some rhythm going in this series, immediately hit a step-back jumper. Off a steal by Garnett, Pierce converted a three-point play to push the Celtics' lead to 90-81 with 1:17 left. If not for a dagger by Bryant, a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left that cut it to five, Rivers' strategy would have worked without the need for him to break a sweat.
"When you're playing like that, you just try to play as hard as you can for as long as you can," Robinson said. "And then you want the starters to go back in so they can carry us home."
They have carried us to this strange, good place in the Finals -- 2-2 with Game 5 on Sunday, heading straight for Game 7. The only thing left to explain on this night was Big Baby's drool.
"Let me tell you something right quick," Davis said. "When you're in the moment, you're in the moment. If I slobber, snot, spit, please excuse me. Kids, don't do that. Have manners and things like that."
From the fight in the SUV to this improbable performance in the Finals, consider Shrek and Donkey moseying down the road to forgiveness.