Commentary

Robinson's patience pays off

Celtics sub finally gets a chance -- and makes the most of it

Updated: May 29, 2010, 11:56 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- When Boston Celtics guard Nate Robinson returned to his locker after Friday's 96-84 Game 6 triumph over the Orlando Magic, his two cell phones were buzzing.

His back to the mob of cameras and reporters awaiting his attention, Robinson fielded a quick call from a college teammate and politely said he'd call him back shortly. A quick glance at the screen of his Blackberry revealed 35 new text messages -- and that number probably doubled before reporters were done peppering him with questions.

[+] EnlargeNate Robinson
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesNate Robinson changed the game with 13 second-quarter points and some stellar defense while subbing for Rajon Rondo.

On the whiteboard inside the Celtics' locker room, a big No. 4 was written in the upper right-hand corner. It likely signified the number of wins Boston need to win the NBA title. But it might as well have been an homage to Robinson, who wears No. 4.

Yes, after toiling in relative obscurity for much of the past three months since his arrival in Boston, it took a mere eight minutes, 45 seconds to make Robinson the toast of the town.

"Nate was great tonight, everybody; Nate was unbelievable," locker neighbor Glen Davis said, beaming. "Mighty Mouse, huh? Came through. Twitter topic, guys. Make him a Twitter topic tonight."

Robinson couldn't usurp the likes of Tyra Banks and the final episode of her TV talk show as a trending topic, but Robinson is likely to get more airtime than the supermodel after his performance in the Celtics' Eastern Conference-clinching triumph at TD Garden.

Robinson missed the final three shots he took but finished with 13 points, two assists and two rebounds over 13:07. And he did enough in the second quarter to justify the trade that sent Eddie House, J.R. Giddens, and Bill Walker to the Knicks.

Thanks to his exploits, the Celtics are back in the Finals for the second time in three years. They'll face either the Lakers or the Suns in their quest for the franchise's 18th NBA championship.

An NBA Finals cap sitting next to him, Robinson admitted he was having a hard time putting the experience into words. Just minutes earlier he stood on the scorer's table near the Boston bench and implored the Garden faithful to roar as the Celtics received the Eastern Conference championship trophy.

Robinson dreamed of this type of night -- even when he was stuck in the doghouse in New York or couldn't get off the bench in Boston. He could have easily packed it in, but instead he waited for his moment.

Asked whether he ever lost his confidence, Robinson said: "Never. That's something I never lost. Some people think being overconfident is cocky. But you've got to have a chip on your shoulder."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers told Robinson numerous times that he would be a valuable member of his team, and that he would even win them a playoff game at some point.

He trusted his coach, and in the season's biggest game, Rivers trusted Robinson.

Despite logging a mere 43 minutes this postseason before Friday night and scoring just 24 points -- nearly half of which came during trash time of a lopsided loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the conference semifinals -- Robinson maintained his trust in Rivers.

"I just kept listening; I heard [Rivers] say it to the media, and heard him say it to me," Robinson said. "I just kept waiting, waiting patiently. Games were chipping away, and I'm thinking, 'When's it going to happen?'

"It happened today."

Before Friday's game, Rivers had already decided the Celtics would give extended minutes to Robinson based on the defensive intensity he showed during Game 5.

But when point guard Rajon Rondo crashed hard to the floor on a drive to the basket late in the first quarter, Robinson became even more important. An ice pack strapped to his back, Rondo looked downright Larry Bird-like as he lay on the floor in front of the Boston bench, trying to quell the pain.

Robinson bought Rondo a long break with his play at both ends. Offensively, Robinson erupted for 13 second-quarter points, connecting on four of seven shots, and added an assist as Boston seized control of the game for good.

[+] EnlargeRajon Rondo
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesWhen Rajon Rondo hit the floor in spectacular fashion late in the first quarter, it opened the door for Nate Robinson.

A Robinson assist on a reverse jam by Kevin Garnett ignited an 11-0 burst that turned a 10-point advantage into a 21-point cushion little more than three minutes before Rondo returned to the court.

"One of the reasons we brought him in is, if you look at our team over the last couple years, three years ago we brought guys in during the middle of the year to help us in these types of situations when we get to the playoffs," captain Paul Pierce said. "Somewhere along the line these guys that are role players that people don't really talk about come along and help us win games. They really get overlooked. Rasheed had his time, Baby [Davis] had his moments, [Tony Allen]'s had his moment, and now Nate.

"I thought [Friday's game] was huge for him. He hasn't played a lot of basketball in the playoffs. He kind of filled out the rotation. But my hat's off to him because usually young players, they kind of mentally fall out of it when they don't play.

"He came into practice, got his work in, shot the ball, and did whatever he had to do to stay ready. Tonight his number was called, and that just shows his true professionalism being ready when his number was called."

Rivers beamed like a proud father watching Robinson's second-quarter outburst. After the game, he embraced him on the court and reminded Robinson how he said this day would come.

"I told him I loved him, and I told him at some point it was going to happen for him," Rivers said. "And it was all up to him to stay engaged. And he did. I get no credit out for this. Nate Robinson stayed focused in 30 whatever games without playing. And to me, that's more important than anything he's done tonight."

Rivers had stressed to anyone who would listen that Robinson (along with Marquis Daniels) was due for a breakout game in the postseason. In Robinson's case, he didn't lie.

"I told him almost every practice during the playoffs, at every single practice, I made a point of going over to him: 'Stay engaged,'" Rivers said. "'At some point, you're going to win a game for us. I can't tell you when. I can't tell you when you're going to play. I can't tell you if you're going to play, on what night at least, but at some point you're going to win a game for us.'"

Said Michael Finley: "Nate was huge for us. He just, he gave us that energy. I've always said that they have an Energizer Bunny over there in Jameer Nelson, and we had one here in Nate Robinson. And he was able to do that tonight. He was able to offensively do some things to get the crowd into it. Defensively he was a spark. And he did the things tonight that the organization brought him in to be."

Robinson's reward? Some quality time with the television. Robinson typically plays video games in his downtime, but it was all "SportsCenter" all the time for him in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

"I hope my mom's watching," Robinson said. "I'll probably just watch TV all night."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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