Mike D'Antoni did not mince his words. He never does.
The New York Knicks coach was asked how he viewed mercurial guard Nate Robinson after a practice. This after Robinson shot at an opponent's basket and sat seven straight games for his impetuosity.
They wanted to know if the coach harbored some stubborn vendetta. Robinson's agents demanded a trade.
"They always think it's personal...I'd play Satan himself if I could win," D'Antoni said. "I got no morals or scruples."
He didn't equate the two, but it sure seemed like he would play the devil over the 5'7" guard. Observers dubbed his playing-time controversy "Nate-Gate."
D'Antoni wasn't the only one who never pictured the scene that unfolded on Thursday night. Robinson climbed on the back of Glen "Big Baby" Davis, and together they celebrated a furious fourth-quarter run by the Boston Celtics reserves.
"We're like Shrek and Donkey," Robinson said at the podium. On the court, they were pyro junkies, bursting through the Laker defense like race cars covered in firecrackers.
Oh, the fireworks. One Robinson-to-Davis sequence prompted some ooohs and aaahs. It also brought a silenced Garden crowd to its feet.
Rajon Rondo, and Paul Pierce watched much of the final quarter from the bench—the same place most thought Robinson would be glued when Boston GM Danny Ainge traded to get him.
Behind a stoic, determined, 18-point effort from Davis and 36 points in all from the bench, the Celtics knotted the NBA Finals at two games apiece with a 96-89 win.
The line of questioning shifted from Boston's ability to win another game to whether Lamar Odom would grace these Finals with his presence and if Andrew Bynum's ailing knee would heal enough for him to play Sunday night.
The Celtics out-rebounded the Lakers 41-34 and won the paint battle by 20, 54-34.
Robinson didn't just watch the action. He fueled it with 12 timely points.
He drained a three-pointer at the end of the first quarter and drilled another in the second.
He made just two baskets—a finger roll and a running jump shot plus two freebies—in the fourth quarter, but it felt like much more.
Robinson spent much of the early rounds as an observer. He poured in 12 game-changing points in the Eastern Conference clincher against the Magic.
Just as Ron Artest hopes a championship will alter his legacy, Robinson wants to prove he can help a team win. D'Antoni knew he could score. All of his coaches knew that.
Fans also know him as a slam-dunk champion. Kobe Bryant has distanced himself from the showboating competition during All-Star Weekend over the years, and the stigma surrounding most of the participants shows why.
Gerald Green can blow out a candle on a cupcake while hanging in the air, but he can't play. Knowing how to play means much more than vertical leap, and Derek Fisher served as proof in Game Three with his 11 fourth-quarter points.
Acumen and basketball IQ matter in the postseason. Robinson has never been viewed as a player with those qualities.
He surprised no one when he doused the Atlanta Hawks with 41 points in a regular-season game as a Knick. "Nate the Great" does that.
Those spectacular outbursts have lined his career, as have the spectacular failures.
In the span of several pressure-packed playoff contests, Robinson has rewritten his role and a piece of his image.
He's still wild just as Artest is still nuts. His energetic effort, though, helped the Celtics win when the stars couldn't find the rim with GPS assistance.
Kevin Garnett made just three of five shots, though his turnaround jumper just before the first-half buzzer proved to be an important bucket. Ray Allen bricked seven of his 11 attempts. Rondo missed 10 of his 15 shots and failed to find a rhythm.
Pierce did play more like "The Truth" with 19 points, but he managed just 12 shots.
Did Robinson and Davis swoop in to save a must-win affair? You betcha.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin can see a lot from her backyard. Thursday night, the drool sliding down Davis' face after a humongous make loomed larger than Russia.
It was bigger than Pau Gasol's hair. The impact the two undersized reserves had on the final score was as elephantine.
Davis emerged as a key cog last year in the absence of Kevin Garnett. His resume already boasted a playoff game-winner. A kid in Orlando could tell you all about it.
His attitude has often trumped his weight, and one October night turned disastrous when he threw a punch at a friend who was driving them home from a nightclub.
He joined the bonehead of the month club and did not suit up until a Christmas match with the Orlando Magic.
Robinson scored a lot of points in games that will mean nothing in five years. He, too, pranced and acted like an immature punk.
That changed for good on the granddaddy of all stages. No one could have predicted Davis and Robinson would gobble up significant fourth-quarter minutes and payback their coach's trust with production.
Well, they did. Them and headcase Rasheed Wallace. Rivers rode his bench past the five-minute mark of the final period, longer than most would have.
He ditched some future Hall of Famers in favor of an explosive but tiny guard who had been such an enigma.
Robinson completed the transformation from less favorable rotation option than Satan to a necessary savior.
D'Antoni did not mince his words a few months ago. Thursday night, Robinson did not mince the continuation of his unexpected response.
New York GM Donnie Walsh might need to see if the devil has any game, should LeBron James and the other star free agents spurn the Knicks. The team has some cap space it hopes to burn.
The Celtics still hope to win the franchise's 18th title, and Robinson has become a critical factor in that quest.
Did he really just team with a guy nicknamed "Big Baby" to help salvage a series?
You bet your pitchfork he did.
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