It looked effortless what the infamous "Shrek and Donkey" duo did in Tuesday night's preseason tilt with the Philadelphia 76ers — Robinson exploded for 26 points, Davis poured in 14 more, and through three quarters, it looked like smooth sailing for the C's to their fourth consecutive exhibition win.
But that's not how it ended. And it's through no fault of Robinson or Davis, who both did everything they could in a losing effort. But Tuesday's setback, 103-92 to a Sixers team that streaked to victory in the fourth quarter, just goes to show that the Celtics aren't a complete team without Rajon Rondo and the veteran Big Three leading the way.
The points, Nate and Baby can give you at a moment's notice. That's no problem. But the leadership, the mettle and the defensive energy needed to close out a grinding win, those aren't traits that sprout up overnight. And without their starters, the Celtics didn't have them.
Davis came to life first for the Celtics, going off for six consecutive points in a span of 1:17 midway through the first quarter. He emerged as a dominating low-post scorer against a Sixers defense that had fallen asleep on him early and finished the night with a not-too-shabby 6-for-9 effort from the field.
Robinson then turned it on when the Sixers clamped down on Davis, hitting a big 3-pointer off a Davis assist with 5:54 left in the second quarter. That cut the Sixers' lead down to 35-33, and it sparked a Celtic rally that gave them a slight halftime edge and a lead that would reach double digits by the middle of the third quarter. Robinson finished the game 6-for-13 from the field, 3-for-7 from 3-point range and a dazzling 11-for-12 from the free-throw line. He was the go-to scorer for a Celtic team that had benched all its usual suspects.
And then it all unraveled in the fourth. The C's lacked a cohesive defense without Rondo and Kevin Garnett on the floor; a rookie-laden bench unit allowed the Sixers to claw their way back by running, gunning and controlling the tempo of the game against a fatigued 10-man Celtic rotation.
The fourth quarter unfolded in lopsided fashion because two Sixers, Marreese Speights and Jrue Holiday, ran wild on a Celtics team that didn't have anything left in the tank to slow them down. Speights had 15 points in the quarter, Holiday had eight, and the Sixers used a 32-20 run in the fourth to decide the game.
Speights and Holiday provided exactly the kind of energy that Doc Rivers usually gets out of his bench in the fourth quarter.
Only problem is that Rivers' bench guys were starters on Tuesday night.
Robinson and Davis are great bench scorers. So great, in fact, that they propelled the Celtics to victory in Game 4 of the NBA Finals last June. But on Tuesday night, we saw what happens when the two youngsters try to go beyond their roles.
Both guys have the kind of talent to be NBA starters. Robinson once was one — he was once a star under Mike D'Antoni in New York. Dropping 26 in a game is nothing for him — he had several 40-plus nights with the Knicks once upon a time. And Davis, while he's never been a regular starter in the NBA, carries himself like he knows he could be one. And maybe on another team, he could realize that dream.
But Robinson and Davis are Celtics. They've chosen to be role players on a great team, and that means taking a backseat to Rondo and the Big Three.
Nights like Tuesday night affirm what we already knew — good role players win games, but they can't do it alone.
The Celtics suffered their first loss, but they'll forget all about it after a good night's sleep. Just wait until they get their starters back.
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