You have to commend Boston coach Doc Rivers for not giving into politics during the Celtics’ 96-89 win in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night. With reserves Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Nate Robinson providing electricity off the bench, Rivers had a chance to pull the plug on the show midway through the final period but declined. As he should have.
With Lakers center, Andrew Bynum, tied to the bench with a knee injury, Rivers wasn’t up against the size disadvantage that he’s faced throughout the first three games of the series, meaning his shorter reserves like Davis (who’s outplayed starting forward Kevin Garnett at times throughout this year’s playoffs) were able to see extended minutes. Bynum’s knee injury going forward could and possibly should result in more minutes for Davis. He’s the only Boston big who appears content with attacking Los Angeles down-low and rather bang than settle for a jump-shot.
But while a vote for extended action for Davis is obvious, Robinson also deserves to be in the running for an increased workload. His perimeter shooting opens up the court for Boston’s half court offense and allows one-on-one specialists Davis, Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen more room to operate in isolation. It’s clear that Robinson is no where near the play-making point guard that Rondo is but the long distance shooting and scoring that Robinson provides over Rondo is unmistakable.
Before Thursday night, Rivers had played Rondo 40, 42, and 42 minutes through the series’ first three games and received modest but unconvincing numbers from his star point guard. Aside from a 13-minute, scoreless performance in the Game 1 (where the whole team played poorly), Robinson has given the Celtics 24 points in just 29 minutes of playing time in the last three contests. Even Senators haven’t campaigned harder for more face time than Robinson has this past week.
It remains questionable why Rivers hasn’t ran more of a Rondo-Robinson back-court at times, especially when Lakers coach Phil Jackson is playing some combination of Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic, and Jordan Farmar as his guard set. While Rondo and Robinson are both small in stature, they play bigger than their size, collecting rebounds and blocking shots (Robinson’s block on Dwight Howard in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals was athleticism at its finest).
Rivers’ reluctance to play the 6-foot-8 Davis heavy minutes against Bynum and Pau Gasol through the first three games was understandable but his reluctance to play Robinson however, is something he’ll need to rethink going forward. Now that the complexity of the series has changed drastically with Bynum’s availability for the remainder of the series in serious doubt, it should allow Rivers to be more creative with his bench. Robinson, Davis, Tony Allen, and Rasheed Wallace played fantastic during Game 4 and have played solid overall during the Finals as well.
If Garnett, Ray Allen, Rondo, and Pierce continue their inconsistent play, Rivers should continue to avoid NBA politics and rely on his reserves if he wants to avoid losing the 2010 championship election.