Just a little patience
Given Robinson's positive turnaround, it only made sense for Rivers to stick with him Tuesday night in the finale of the road trip against the Sacramento Kings. Yet leave it to Robinson to compartmentalize the woes and wonders of an entire trip into a single game. In the first half of the Celtics' eventual 95-90 victory over the Kings, Robinson very much resembled the helter-skelter guard who came up mostly empty against the Portland Trailblazers and the Phoenix Suns in back-to-back games last week.
Post-halftime Robinson, though, was very much like the one that took the Staples Center floor in Los Angeles on Sunday -- full of energy, and, at times, a critical game-changer.
Boston's starters built up a seven-point first quarter advantage, only to see it squandered by the reserves early in the second frame, due to questionable defense and a lack of ball movement on the offensive end. Robinson was serving, once again, as the backup point guard, and, apart from a driving layup four minutes into the second period, it was a quarter Robinson might want to forget about in a hurry.
In typical Robinson fashion, he followed up his aggressive drive to the rim with a head-scratching decision on a fast-break opportunity with teammate Marquis Daniels. Daniels had procured a steal on the other end, and he and Robinson soon found themselves in a 2-on-1 situation with the Kings' Pooh Jeter. Daniels, sprinting with the ball up the left side of the court, dished the ball over to Robinson on the right side, and Robinson, rather than giving Daniels the ball right back -- all but guaranteeing an easy layup -- decided to keep the ball himself and attack the rim. Jeter, quickly picking up on the decision, wisely slid in front of Robinson and drew the offensive foul.
The play exemplified the type of first half both Robinson, and the second unit as a whole, suffered through -- a half marred by poor execution, poor shot selection, and poor decision making on both ends of the court, all on top of a lack of intensity to boot. By the time all of the starters re-entered the game, their seven-point cushion had melted away into a three-point deficit and Boston would eventually trail 54-45 at the break.
"I was upset at halftime because I thought coming off the game Sunday, you're worried about just the emotional up and down of the season and our first unit played great, and then the second unit came in and almost literally just robbed the spirit from the team, with the way they played," Rivers told reporters. "I didn't think they moved the ball, I thought they were all thinking about offense."
Once again on the strength of the starters, the Celtics fought back in the third quarter and carried a three-point lead into the final frame, and it was Robinson, of all players, who helped the Celtics seal their third victory of the trip. Paired in the backcourt with Rajon Rondo, Robinson was like a freshly lit firecracker, darting around the court in all directions without pause, wreaking occasional havoc on the defensive end, taking a few questionable shots on offense, but, ultimately, making intelligent plays down the stretch to help the C's secure the win.
Mere minutes into the quarter, Jeter attempted to slice through the Celtics' defense, only to have the ball tipped away towards Boston's bench by Rondo, and it was Robinson who dove headfirst to the floor to secure it. He tossed the ball back to Rondo, who moved it ahead to Glen Davis for an easy layup in transition and a seven-point advantage.
Rivers once again stayed patient with Robinson by not yanking him after he came up empty on two long jump shots -- the type of attempts that landed him in trouble in the first half. Unlike in the first half, however, Robinson was still playing with a boatload of energy, which perhaps made his missed field goal attempts somewhat more acceptable for Rivers. When Ray Allen advanced to the scorer's table to check back in with just under nine minutes to play, it was Rondo who headed to the bench for a breather and not Robinson.
He made the most of his extended fourth-quarter minutes, atoning for his missed buckets by streaking down the length of the court off of a Samuel Dalembert missed shot and converting a right-handed layup. On the following possession, Robinson received the ball in the right corner with the shot clock winding down, but rather than force a shot of his own, he attacked the paint and fired a pass over to Allen in the left corner, who knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the game, and gave the Celtics a six-point edge with seven minutes remaining.
Rivers rewarded Robinson by keeping Rondo on the bench the rest of the way, allowing him to finish the game out on the floor. Robinson was fine letting the likes of Paul Pierce and Davis drive the Celtics offensively from there, but he remained pesky on defense, poking the ball away from both Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins in the waning minutes, as the Celtics were assuming control for good. Robinson recorded three of his game-high five steals in the fourth quarter, arguably when Boston was in need of them the most.
Rivers's patience in Robinson -- whose on-court performances have been about as predictable as that box of chocolates Mrs. Gump kept referring to -- once again, paid off. Said the validated coach afterwards: "I thought Nate's energy was absolutely wonderful."
Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com
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