With two days off following Saturday's gruesome loss to the New Jersey Nets, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers had some extra time to get creative, and one of his tasks involved figuring out a way to make guard Nate Robinson feel more comfortable in a new environment.
With Robinson still in the process of learning the Celtics' expansive playbook following the trade that brought him to Boston, Rivers turned the student into the teacher. During Monday's practice, Robinson taught his 11 new teammates an offensive set he previously ran with the New York Knicks.
Boston utilized that set Tuesday night and Robinson looked far more comfortable than he had in three previous games with the Green. He came off the bench to score 14 points, highlighted by a trio of fourth-quarter 3-pointers that lifted the Celtics to a 105-100 triumph over the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
"It's funny, that's what happens when you have too much time off," joked Rivers. "I was thinking, 'I've got to find a way to get Nate more comfortable quicker.' My thought was that if we give him one of his plays, the other four [teammates on the court] won't be comfortable, but he will be. It's a movement set and we ran it pretty well. Nate was on fire and he was aggressive."
When Robinson checked in with 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Detroit had just taken the lead. The Pistons were up four early in the fourth quarter when No. 4 helped Boston regain control.
Robinson connected on a troika of 3-pointers over a four-minute span to trigger a 13-2 run by the Boston bench that put the Celtics out front 89-81 with about seven minutes to play.
On a night when the Boston starters again looked dreadful, Robinson and the bench provided a much-needed spark. The reserves combined for 39 points and built a big enough lead in the final quarter that even the starters couldn't give it away (try as they might, as the Pistons rallied to make it a one-possession game in the final moments).
"We knew we had to get [Robinson] comfortable quickly, so we put in one of [the Knicks'] plays," said Rivers. "That's basically what we ran -- we ran that Knicks' play pretty much the entire fourth quarter. ... For the first time since he's been with us, I thought he looked really comfortable out there."
Echoed Glen Davis, who assisted on Robinson's final two buckets: "He put one play in and it helped to get him going. He just felt comfortable out there."
Robinson was 5-of-7 from the field, including 4-of-5 beyond the arc. That's enough to make Celtics fans forget about Eddie House, the other key component in a five-player swap that brought Robinson to Boston at the trade deadline last month.
"The stuff that we run when he's in with the second unit, he's got patience about him on the offensive end," said Ray Allen. "He can get to the basket, he can get the midrange or he can get the 3-ball."
After practice Monday, Robinson talked about teaching his new team a new offensive set.
"It's kind of cool. I was out there trying to coach it firsthand, and I'm like, 'Oh man, the spotlight is on me,'" said Robinson. "I tried to teach them a couple of sets we ran in New York, make it easy for me to transition. They liked the offense we showed them and we're trying to run it. I know when I'm in, I'll call that 99.9 percent of the time. I'll be real comfortable."
He wasn't kidding. Tuesday's performance could go a long way toward helping Robinson settle in with the Celtics. When they made the trade, Rivers stressed that they wouldn't try to change Robinson into a pure point guard. They wanted him to stay aggressive with the ball and look for his shots.
"That's exactly what we need from [Robinson]," Rivers said after Tuesday's game. "We want to wind him up and let him go. He was very good and he made some nice passes, as well. Bottom line is, he's a scorer, and we want him to be able to score."
Rivers has praise for the whole bench.
"Our bench was terrific -- they won this game for us," said Rivers. "Nate, Shelden [Williams], [Glen Davis], Marquis [Daniels], Tony [Allen] -- we needed to give [the starters] rest and they came in and got the lead and stretched the lead. That's great and that's what we needed. Right now, we've just got to reach out and anybody that can give us a lift, we'll take it."
Robinson admitted following Monday's practice that he wasn't sure when it would click for him as he learns Boston's playbook. But maybe it doesn't matter. If Robinson continues to put up numbers like he did Tuesday, the Celtics ought to toss their own playbook out the window and let Robinson add in some more Knicks plays.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.