I remember telling people over and over again last year that Glen Davis held the key to the Celtics’ hopes in the playoffs against LeBron, D-Wade and the Heat.
Yes, there was Rajon Rondo’s gruesome elbow injury. Yes, there was Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen a year older.
But to me, the one true ‘X’ factor the Celtics had over the Heat was a big man in the middle who could dominate the paint and the glass at will -- when motivated.
And so, when the Celtics ran out of steam in the fourth quarter against the Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, it didn’t surprise me that Davis averaged just over 18 minutes per game in the series, nearly 12 minutes less than he had in the regular season. He played just 16 minutes in the decisive game.
What an incredible disappointment to everyone. Big Baby became a big dud. And last spring was the last straw for the Celtics. They gave him every chance to grow up and grow into a star role -- part of the young core of the future of the proudest franchise in NBA history.
Remember when the team rewarded him by tearing up his second “two-year contract” and giving him a two-year, $6.3 million deal before the 2009-10 season? That season began in Cleveland without Big Baby when he got into a fight in the back of an SUV two nights before the season opener.
Remember Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge chiding him for putting himself in that kind of position after the team had rewarded him with a new deal?
Big Baby Davis was a lot of things to the Celtics. He was an undersized, overachieving big man who at times was unstoppable, throwing his body around with reckless abandon.
He was a valuable weapon off the bench in the team’s 2008 title run and even bigger in the near miss of 2010, filling in for Kendrick Perkins in Games 6 and 7 of the NBA finals, only to have Kobe Bryant turn it on in the fourth quarter while the Celtics ran out of gas.
He was a powerful force for the first half of last season, when the Celtics were tearing it up again in the Eastern Conference, well ahead of the Heat and Magic for the top spot.
Then, predictably, it all fell apart. The Celtics stumbled to a third-place finish in the East like Big Baby stumbling to the basket on a failed dunk against the Heat in January.
He put on an estimated 20 pounds and his performance fell off in games and practice.
Coach Doc Rivers was asked what it’s like to not have Davis around anymore in Celtics green.
“There’s no prodigal son,” Rivers joked, as he would often with one of his favorite players.
There was no mistaking it Tuesday at media day.
The newly formed group of reserves that will form the Celtics bench will be more mature and responsible: Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Keyon Dooling, Sasha Pavlovic and hopefully, Jeff Green.
The words of the captain couldn’t have been clearer.
"I thought a year ago we had a lot of immaturity with our bench roster and it brought inconsistent play from them," Paul Pierce said. "I think these guys are a lot more experienced, bring a lot more professionalism on a day-to-day basis."
Pierce clearly was referencing the play and attitudes of those like Von Wafer, Nate Robinson and Avery Bradley.
He might have even been pointing the finger at Delonte West, who you’ll remember got into a fight at practice with Wafer.
But the person who represented the crumbling of the bench -- and the key reason the Celtics weren’t able to overcome the Heat in the playoffs -- is Glen Davis.
Big Baby, with his newfound conditioning and physique, was jettisoned to Orlando last week in exchange for a more “mature” Brandon Bass. By mature, we mean a player who won’t play “all-world” for 40 games and then disappear for the last 40 and the playoffs while putting on about 20 pounds in the process.
“We’re not goofing around," Rivers said. "I hate to say it that way. We want to win now. Literally, our window is closing. We have to take advantage of this year.”
Could there be anyone else Rivers was talking about when uttering the words “goofing around”?
Of course not.
Big Baby could keep things loose on the bench and in the locker room with the best of them with his goofy demeanor. But he could just as easily lose focus and forget a play call or -- as was the case in the second half of the season -- commit a dumb foul because he was out of position and out of shape.
Of course, no one saw that coming in the first half of the season, when Davis was the leading candidate in the NBA for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
"Baby was great for us, though," Rivers said. "Last year, he had a great first half of the year. I think people do forget after 40 games, Baby was probably Sixth Man of the year and then the last 40 were not fun for anybody, not for us and not fun for him. He really struggled.
"But overall, if you look at the years, he gave us good years here and we couldn’t be happier. I’m happy he ended up in a good place."
Indeed, Davis was productive when he was on the court, and in shape.
Davis average 7.6 points and 4.1 points per game in his four seasons in Boston. Last year, as the Celtics battled through injuries to Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal, he was the only true option at center, even though vastly undersized.
He responded with the best numbers of his career -- 11.7 points and 5.4 rebounds while playing a tad under 30 minutes a game.
It’s those numbers the Magic saw when they not only traded for him but committed $26 million to him over the next four seasons.
Will Big Baby grow up in the land of Mickey Mouse? I can only go off recent history.
So, while Davis has reported to camp in the best shape of his career, lean and mean, I’ll take the word of someone on the team when Pierce said the bench just got more mature.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
The question for the tweeps this week: Will the Celtics bench be better or worse without Glen Davis?
From @Matt_Hartley_: @Trags Depends if they make more moves or not. I feel like he's easily replaceable.
From @MorrisBlue: @Trags better w/o BBD. He was inconsistent and took way too many long two-pointers, especially for a PF. Shooting motion looks like a seal… though "no pass" Bass won't help much on offense either, but a better role player than BBD
From @KiashBaiby: @Trags they wont be better or worse.. He didnt make a difference to me he was just a really good cheerleader Their just going to be the same
From @TKirwin: @Trags which bigbaby? The hungry driven overacheiver or the blownup ego outta shape one?
From @ejd357: @Trags bench, room and game will all b bettr. He bcame a distraction with no confidence.
From @drjefflo: @Trags the #celtics bench will be better athletically but not spiritually without @iambigbaby11 -gonna miss Glen Davis.
I was in Washington last Saturday, wondering if the Patriots secondary could keep up with Rex Grossman, when I looked up at the TV and was horrified by what I saw in my hometown.
The city of Cincinnati has gone through a lot in the last 20 years -- riots, Bob Huggins and the Bengals.
But what I saw Saturday between two schools with a rivalry as intense as Duke-Carolina, and nearly as rich, opened a new wound. With all of the terrible seasons the Reds and Bengals have amassed, the city has had the fallback of two of the best college basketball programs in the country.
With the eighth-ranked Xavier Musketeers pummeling the Big East's Bearcats, Xavier’s Tu Holloway decided to get in the face of Ge’Lawn Guyn, igniting an explosion with his childish and boorish trash-talk.
With 9.4 seconds remaining and the Muskies blowing out the Bearcats, 78-53, Xavier coach Chris Mack left in his starters and it resulted in the ugliest brawl in major college basketball memory.
The lowlight, of course, was Cincy power forward Yancy Gates sucker-punching Xavier big man Kenny Frease in the left eye, opening a gash that required seven stitches to close.
Gates should not be allowed to step on a college basketball court ever again. Period. End of story.
I don’t want to hear apologies, like the ones coming from Cincinnati on Wednesday when coach Mick Cronin stepped to the dais with Gates and two other players. I want to see players held accountable. Six-game suspensions (which is what Gates got, along with anger management and community service) for sucker punching an opposing player don't cut it. Never stepping on a college court again does.
Sure, Xavier should take its fair share of blame, like for developing a trash-talking reputation that reflects its fiery coach.
Just a week earlier, Purdue coach Matt Painter saw it up and close and personal on the same court -- Xavier players chirping the whole game.
Painter watched the game last Saturday and said he thought if the referees don’t do something there’s going to be a fight.
This mess was all preventable. From the sucker punch and trash-talking on the court to the ridiculous and moronic comment that “We’ve got a whole bunch of gangsters in our locker room” from Holloway in the ill-advised press conference afterward.
As many of you know, I am a Cincinnati native, and what took place at the Cintas Center last Saturday on the campus of Xavier University was appalling, embarrassing, maddening and shameful to anyone associated with the city.
Just four miles separate the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University. They are two distinguished colleges with outstanding basketball programs and history. They have produced NBA pros in vast numbers in the last 40 years.
But more importantly, they have tremendous academic programs, on the leading edge of medicine, technology and business.
This week, Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters said he wasn’t going to press charges after talking with Frease, who communicated with Gates through text. Frease told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Shannon Russell he didn’t want Gates charged criminally for something that took place in the heat of battle.
“I just wanted to let him know that … I mean, I saw a lot of the stuff coming out about how the police and stuff were looking into it and I just wanted him to know that anything that was coming from that wasn’t from my end. I never wanted to press charges against him,” Frease said.
“People make mistakes in the heat of battle. I’ve made mistakes in my life in emotional situations. I don’t think that’s a reason … especially in a basketball game. Obviously there’s no room for that in a basketball game. But to pursue somebody criminally for something that happens in something that’s that competitive -- it seemed immature to me. And I didn’t want him to be punished for something for his whole life because of something that he did in a game that is that emotional.”
I’m not asking for jail time for Gates, just accountability. You land a punch that could blind your victim, you’re done in college basketball.