<
>

C's expect big boost from Big Baby

Elsa/Getty Images

The Celtics should get a big boost with the return of Big Baby.In their last four games, the Celtics have been forced to play with 10 or fewer players due to their escalating injury woes, which were further compounded when top reserve Glen Davis strained the patella tendon in his left knee in the final moments of a victory over the Phoenix Suns on March 2.

Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

The Celtics learned the value of Glen Davis as he's missed the last four games.The good news is that Davis is expected to be back in the lineup soon -- coach Doc Rivers said Friday that Davis is scheduled to play in Sunday's tilt with the Milwaukee Bucks. While the anticipation is mounting for the returns of three players that have struggled to stay on the court this season -- veteran centers Shaquille O'Neal (right foot injuries) and Jermaine O'Neal (left knee surgery), and guard Delonte West (right ankle sprain) -- Davis' return is just as crucial as Boston continues its fight for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with a month left in the regular season.

Up until the Celtics' bout with the Golden State Warriors on March 4, Davis had played in every game this season, and that availability, along with the consistency he played with, proved invaluable to coach Doc Rivers. Davis served as Boston's main energy guy off the bench, which was often an underrated role of his. This season Davis is averaging career-highs in minutes (29.4), points (11.6), rebounds (5.3), and assists (1.2), as well as free throw percentage (75.0 percent), all on top of being the NBA leader in charges drawn. It's all added up to Davis earning some serious consideration for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award.

Right now, the Celtics don't just need bodies, they need bodies that understand the ins-and-outs of the system, to better spell the starters without the team suffering any significant drop-off. Davis has proven not only that he understands the system, but also that he can thrive in it. With Davis back in the mix, Rivers can once again roll out the five-man unit he's used more often than any other this season: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Davis. It's the only five-man unit that's played over 300 minutes together this season, and its produced an offensive rating (112.8 points per 100 possessions) that would rank first in the NBA and a defensive rating (98.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) that would rank third in the league.

The Celtics' defensive rating for the season (97.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) places them second in the league behind only the Chicago Bulls. In the first three games Davis missed, Boston's allowed an average of 105.9 points per 100 possessions.

For much of the season, Rivers has elected to go with Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett, and Davis down the stretch of games. But with Davis out, Rivers has inserted either Nenad Krstic or Jeff Green in that fifth spot instead. While both Krstic and Green are talented offensive players, so far, these units haven't registered any considerable defensive chemistry. The five-man unit of the Big Four and Green has allowed 108.7 points per 100 possessions, a figure that would rank 29th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Big Four and Krstic haven't been much better, as they've allowed 106.1 points per 100 possessions. Sure, these units still need time to gel, but in late-game situations in the immediate future, Davis gives Rivers a much more appealing option.

Davis' return should also positively impact the play of Green in particular. Rivers and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have stated over and over that Green's versatility is one of his biggest strengths. But Rivers and Ainge have also stated that finding the best way to use Green will be one of the coach's biggest challenges moving forward. Davis' return to the second unit should allow Green to spend more time exclusively at the small forward spot, which still seems to be his natural position. Green plays more like a swingman than he does a bruiser in the paint. At 6-foot-9, Green can spend more time posting up smaller small forwards, as opposed to being posted up on by taller power forwards, which he has trouble defending at times without the added length of someone like Garnett, or the bulk of someone like Davis.

Davis' return is vital to Boston's bench, both in the short-term and the long-term. The Big Four are clearly playing too many minutes right now, and Rivers could really use the rock of consistency that Davis has been for the vast majority of the season. And down the road, once the slew of injured players return to the court, Davis will help to anchor what should be one of the most productive second units in the postseason.

The bottom line is, Davis gives the Celtics much more to work with on both sides of the ball. His return is vital, and hopefully it'll come sooner, rather than later.

Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com