The Celtics' starting five has seen better days. But rather than get discouraged and walk out of the Palace at Auburn Hills with their third straight loss, the C's decided to get creative on Tuesday night and found a way to manufacture a road win over the Pistons.
Kendrick Perkins, battling flu-like symptoms this week, was out. Paul Pierce, returning from a thumb injury that kept him out all last week, wasn't a major factor. Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace both showed their age against a younger, more energetic Pistons team.
So the Celtics dug deep to win this one.
Boston's bench came up with 39 points, including a fourth-quarter stretch where 17 consecutive points came from players outside the starting lineup. Nate Robinson was the hero for the Celtics — who erased a late deficit by surging ahead in the fourth — while a supporting cast of Shelden Williams, Glen Davis, Marquis Daniels and Tony Allen held down the fort as well.
"The bench was terrific," coach Doc Rivers said. "They won this game for us. Nate and Shelden, Baby, Marquis, Tony — that was the group that we needed to give us some rest for the starters, and they came in and stretched the lead. That was great. That's what we need."
Robinson was the driving force in the fourth quarter offensively. He began the frame with only five points to his name, but early in the fourth, he came to life.
He knocked down a 27-footer from the top of the key in the opening minute. He drained one from the wing on the right side with eight minutes to play. A minute later, he hit another 27-footer, just right of the top of the key. Nine points in just over four minutes, and the Celtics had an 89-81 lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
"That's exactly what we need from him," Rivers said. "We want to wind him up and let him go. And he was very good. He made some nice passes as well, but the bottom line is he's a scorer, and that's what we want him to be on the floor."
Added Ray Allen, "He's the type of player that defensively, he's going to stay on the ball, and he can create stuff off the defensive end. Just with the stuff that we run, when he's with the second unit, he's got patience about him on the offensive end, and he can get to the basket, he can get to mid-range, or he can get the 3-ball."
Robinson had been slow to adjust to the Celtics system since being dealt to Boston at the deadline two weeks ago. So rather than give up, Rivers decided to get crafty and borrow a page from the New York playbook.
"I just felt, I've got to get him comfortable quickly," Rivers said. "We put in one of their plays. That's basically what they ran, one of the Knicks' plays, they ran it for the entire fourth quarter. It's the one play he's comfortable with, because he knows that.
"Our thinking was 'Let's get Nate comfortable, the other four can be uncomfortable,'" he added. "At least he's comfortable, and he's the one with the ball in his hands. And you could see, for the first time since he's been with us, he was really comfortable out there."
It looks like the growing pains are over for the 5-foot-9 guard. Robinson is ready to be a steady contributor to this Celtics bench, and that's a very good sign for Doc and his squad going forward.
These Celtics have had one of the NBA's best starting fives for the past three seasons. But on nights like this, you learn that a good basketball team needs a sixth man like Robinson to get the job done.