First, you sit up. Soon after that, you start crawling. Then you stand up for the first time, and Mommy and Daddy snap photographs. A few tiny steps are next, and pretty soon — one foot in front of the other — you’ll be walking around the house with a pacifier in your mouth.
Yesterday, the Celtics started to crawl. But Nate Robinson went straight from sitting up to running sprints around the house.
The “Lilliputian,” as Walt “Clyde” Frazier calls him, got hot at the perfect time. Nine fourth quarter points, when the Celtics needed him the most. By the time Nate took a seat, the C’s had grabbed a lead they would never relinquish. And it was mostly because of the energy provided by the smallest man on the court.
When Danny Ainge snatched Nate straight from Mike D’Antoni’s doghouse in exchange for the beloved Eddie House, I’m sure this type of virtuoso performance was precisely what he had in mind. The Lilliputian entered the game with the C’s down one, and the Pistons on a quick 6-0 run.
But a bench sparkplug is someone designated to switch momentum when it’s going bad and keep it going when it’s going good. Three back-breaking three-pointers after being inserted into the game, Nate was done turning momentum on its side, and Boston was up by eight. The game was, effectively, over.
Robinson played only 15 minutes, but was — without argument — the most important Celtic on the court last night. He not only hit shots, but hit timely ones. He put the team on his back when they really needed it, creating his own shot off the bounce as he led the second team to the game-changing run. In short, he did things Eddie House never would have been able to do.
I am as big an Eddie House fan as anyone, but House was never a threat to put a team on his back and lead them to the promised land. I’m not saying Robinson is a great player, and I’m not saying he’ll consistently be able to take over games. But there will be times when he’s the best player on the court. For as many shots as House hit, you could never once say that about him.
House always relied on his teammates to get him going. When he got hot, all a team had to do was tell someone not to leave him, and he’d have a tough time getting a shot off. When Nate gets hot, guys are chasing futilely behind him as he explodes off the dribble into his jump shot. That’s the difference between the two players, and it’s why Robinson has the opportunity to become more valuable to the Celtics than House ever was.
When Nate makes shots, Boston will surge by – and away from – opponents.
And, unlike with House, there will be very little opponents will be able to do about it.