ORLANDO -- The ball had barely ripped through the net and the horn had just finished going off when Glen Big Baby Davis took off down the court like a one-man running of the bulls at Pamplona.
It goes without saying the game-winning jumper was the biggest shot Davis has made in his short career. It wasn’t the first time he had made one -- he had even done it before in Orlando back in February from almost exactly the same spot. But to do so in a playoff game with his team facing a 3-1 hole and Rashard Lewis rushing toward him, Davis had a right to be exuberant.
He even blew a little kiss to the fans who had ridden him so hard during the game.
“Everyone knows I’m an emotional guy,” Davis said. “You’ve seen me cry one time. I love the game of basketball. I’m hard on myself. I’m just enjoying the moment.”
Davis was extremely hard on himself earlier in the game. He was taken out exactly 46 seconds after it started, and then later when he picked up his third foul he was, well, he was ticked the hell off at himself.
But here’s the difference between Big Baby Davis of last year and Big Baby this season. Not only did he work all summer on taking that jump shot, he also had the mental toughness to pull himself together and get back out there and compete.
“It was outstanding,” Paul Pierce said of Baby’s play in which he scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds. “I know he got kind of down on himself because he came out (46) seconds into the game, but he stuck with it. We’re asking a lot of him. For such a short period of time being in the league he’s got to guard Dwight Howard. He’s got to guard Rashard Lewis. Probably the two best players out there. He’s been tremendous for us. With Kevin (Garnett) being out, with Leon (Powe) being out, he’s grown into a man in these playoffs.”
Davis has endured a lot in his short time with the Celtics. A second-round draft pick, a throw-in really at the end of the Ray Allen deal, Davis has had to claw for minutes and a role with this team.
“I’m just trying to find my niche in our system,” Davis said. “You work on it you work on it you work on it. You show that you can make it, they let you shoot it. This year has really been proof of hard work. You have to be focused when you take a shot like that.”
There will also always be questions with Davis about his weight. “Since you guys have known me at LSU, I’ve always been this big,” he said.
Often times Davis is quick with a joke about his size, but it does bother him. Doc Rivers talked about him doing two things last summer: working on his jumper and learning to push away from the dinner table. It was a funny line and Davis is a funny guy, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that he has worked to become a player in this league.
“Glen, he’s a great guy,” Kendrick Perkins said. “Very down to earth guy. He works very hard. He’s overcome a lot of adversity. People talk about his weight like he isn’t going to make it. Just to see him lose the weight in the summer time and right now he’s filling some big shoes. He’s filling KG’s spot.”
Glen “Big Baby” Davis has found his niche and it’s a very big one at that.
1. THE PLAY
The first option on the final play was to get Ray Allen coming off flare screen. The second option was for Pierce to come off a pick and roll. The third and final option was Davis for a jump shot. It was the Celtics system defined in 11 seconds.
“We have a saying,” Rivers said. “’Trust the pass.’ Our best player trusted the pass. He may have had a shot but (Lewis) was in his face. Baby was open. (Pierce) trusted the offense. He trusted the pass. That was great.”
Davis said that he visualizes making game-winning shots every time he shoots. “You always got to see it,” he said. “If you see it, you believe it.
And yes, he a track record in this building.
“He’s done it before down here,” Pierce said. “The same exact spot. I just trust my teammates. Baby plays with tremendous confidence. I was surprised that he hit that. As soon as I saw him go into the shot I knew it was going in. That’s his shot.”
It’s his shot because of all the hard work that he’s put in. The one mechanical thing the Celtics worked with him on, was adding some arc to his shot and it was that arc that got it over the outstretched arm of Lewis.
“Big Shot Baby Davis,” Howard said.
There’s another way to look at that final sequence and from Orlando’s perspective, coach Stan Van Gundy felt that he had let his team down with his defensive call.
“Our guys did exactly, exactly, what we were supposed to do and it didn’t get the job done,” Van Gundy said. “So, that one is on me and that is a tough thing to sit up here and say as a coach.”
Van Gundy wouldn’t get into specifics, but Howard said they were supposed to switch on Pierce if he was open, and he most certainly was. “We can’t blame Stan,” Howard said. “We win together and we lose together. And I told him not get down on himself.”
2. THE MOMENTUM HAS SHIFTED
Before the game there was a lot of talk about whether Orlando was ready to take that proverbial next step, or whether the proud and pounded champs would respond after getting slapped around worse than Rafer Alston smacked Eddie House.
We know the answer to the last part of the equation, but after Van Gundy beat himself up and the Magic lost a golden opportunity to take command of the series, it’s clear that the Celtics are once again in the driver’s seat and Orlando has some soul-searching to do.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Perkins said. “You don’t want to go down 3-1 against a great team like the Magic. We had worked so hard the whole game. We were grinding. Now we go back to Boston and our crowd will be wired up. It’s going to be all right.”
The Celtics could afford to take a deep breath after this one because besides a lapse at the end of the first quarter they showed the grittiness that has become their trademark.
“This is great,” Pierce said. “It was a roller coaster last year and we want to take want to take the same ride. I kind of like the weather down here and I want to come back. That was the motivation right there. There’s so many great games in this playoffs. That’s what playoff basketball is all about. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Pierce was asked about his team’s resilience in the face of the injuries and all the games that they have played over the last two seasons. A few minutes earlier Rajon Rondo had his feet in a bucket of ice after scoring 21 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, most of them coming amidst the trees in the paint. To Rondo’s left sat Perkins, his shoulder wrapped tight in a sling.
“We know what we have here as a team,” Pierce said. “We believe in each other. We still went out and won 60 games minus Kevin for 20-25 games. We’re still the champs. Were going to be a tough team to beat regardless of who’s out there.
We know this about the Celtics. The Magic still have some questions to answer.
3. PERK IS A BEAST, AND A TOUGH ONE AT THAT
Kendrick Perkins didn’t know exactly when it his left shoulder gave out, but he knows it didn’t pop out and he knows he doesn’t really want to know either.
“It’s nothing I can do about it right now,” he said. “It’s going to take time to rest and strengthen it up. Right now I just got to suck it up and get through the playoffs. I’d be lying to you if I told you it was 100 percent. Nobody’s 100 percent in the playoffs, so that’s no excuse. It’s just going to take time. It wasn’t a dislocation, it’s just weak right now.”
How did it happen? “I don’t even know. Getting tangled up with Dwight and banging with Dwight; that’s probably what did it.”
Perkins said that the shoulder (his left one) didn’t pop out like it has so many times in the past and that it’s just weak. But it hurt like hell and he had to come out of the game with about three minutes left.
“At the time it was like, Bang!” he said. “It was so much pain. I can usually take it, but I couldn’t even take it.”
Perkins said he won’t have an MRI when the team gets back to Boston, but that might not be his choice to make.
“I’m cool,” he said. “I’ll just go from there. I’m straight. There ain’t no time to take tests. If I take an MRI and it shows something different, I could be out and I got to play.”
4. THE CAPTAIN, FINALLY
Paul Pierce hinted on Saturday that he was about to bust out. He said he saw some things—things that other people might not see. He said he missed some shots that he normally makes and he said he was going to be aggressive.
Pierce finished with 27 points on 9-for-15 shooting and if not for being plagued with foul trouble he would have scored a whole lot more.
“It’s tough,” Rivers said. “This was the game where he had it going. Managing his minutes was tough. We needed him on the floor. He was creating a lot of helps that allowed everyone else to get shots. Every time he got a foul we had to take him out.”
Pierce picked up his fifth foul on a somewhat dubious call by Bill Kennedy on an out of bounds play. Yes, the same Bill Kennedy who had a run-in with Rivers during the regular season. Pierce didn’t think it was a foul, but he credited his counterpart, Hedo Turkoglu.
“Turkoglu is very crafty with some of the things he does to draw fouls,” Pierce said. I’ve got to tip my hat off to him because I do some of the same things. It’s moves that you just can’t teach. He does a great job with it.”
The Pierce-Turkoglu battle has been one of the more enjoyable subplots of the series. They have waged epic battles in the past and it seems that one of them has been living in foul trouble each game.
“You know, he’s got such a tough cover,” Rivers said. “Stan and me, we’re almost like who can get the other guy in foul trouble first, Turkoglu or Paul.”
Credit Rivers with a sublime adjustment then. As the second half unfolded, Rivers had Pierce initiate the offense from the top of the key with Ray Allen serving as the screener on the pick and roll. The high isolation set not only got Pierce going, it also got Allen untracked for a time.
But credit also goes to Pierce who was on the prowl from the opening tip.
“I saw some things in Game 3 where I could be aggressive, and from the start that’s what I wanted to do,” Pierce said. “I didn’t feel like I did that in Game 3. I waited too long. I wanted to set the tone from the beginning that we were going to be in attack mode all night.”
5. THE MAGIC’S BENCH ALMOST SAVED THEM
Marcin Gortat, Courtney Lee, Mickael Pietrus and Anthony Johnson scored 31 points. The Celtics bench scored two.
It was almost enough to pull Orlando through Game 4, particularly Gortat who made all four of his shots and grabbed three offensive rebounds in just nine minutes of work, and Lee who made life difficult for Allen and Eddie House.
It will be interesting to see if they can carry that over to Boston where NBA maxim holds that benches tend to play much better in their home arenas.
It’s also an indication that even with the Celtics back in control of homecourt advantage the Magic have enough weapons to win this series, if they all play up to their capabilities.
The Celtics survived Sunday night and now have the momentum, but this series is far from over.