Nate Robinson is unlike any other player in the NBA. He is one of the most arrogant, frustrating, hard-nosed, invigorating and entertaining basketball players of the last decade. More than anything else, he has become the most electrifying player in the league.
After floating around with five different teams in his seven years in the league, Robinson has found a home with the Chicago Bulls in 2012-13. In the absence of Derrick Rose, Robinson has given Chicago 13.1 points and 4.4 assists per game off the bench during the regular season, but has truly come alive in the playoffs.
The Bulls beat the Brooklyn Nets in seven games in the first round, and now Chicago is up 1-0 against the reigning champion Miami Heat in round two. After Robinson went off for 34 points in Chicago’s Game 4 win over Brooklyn, including a tear late in the fourth quarter that erased a 14 point deficit and forced the game into overtime, this was his take on the game (via ESPN):
"I always think I'm on fire, kind of like the old school game NBA Jam," he said. "You make a couple in a row, the rim's on fire. You shoot the ball, the ball's on fire. I feel like that at times—all the time. Whenever I'm in the game, I just play with a lot of confidence. You kind of have to lie to yourself and feel like you can't miss."
One of the best things about Robinson is that even at 5’9”, he is among the most fearless players in the league. He doesn’t care who you are, what you’ve won, who you play for or what you’re averaging—he’s going to come at you, and come hard.
Against the Heat in Game 1, Robinson had his head bashed onto the court inadvertently by LeBron James. James has 70 pounds on Nate the Great, and the ensuing collision resulted in 10 stitches for the latter.
That happened in the second quarter—Robinson came back in the second half and lit up Miami for 24 of his 27 points (8-16 FG) to go along with his nine assists on the night. He scored or assisted on 25 of Chicago's final 35 points and was the spark that ignited the Bulls' 10-0 run to end the game, seven of those points being scored by Robinson.
Robinson’s little-man-complex fits in perfectly with the rest of the misfit cast on the Bulls’ roster. Chicago doesn’t have a single superstar (with Rose sidelined indefinitely), but Robinson is emerging as the late-game closer that the team needs to beat teams like Miami down the stretch.
"I've played on some tough teams," Robinson told ESPN after pulling off the upset against Miami in Game 1. "But this one, there's something a little different, something special about this group."
One of the most special things about the team is Robinson himself. If he can lead his Bulls past James and the mighty Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals, he could earn himself a huge contract this offseason.