Friday afternoon, one day after the Celtics had won Game 4 of the NBA Finals thanks to 18 bench points in the fourth quarter, Doc Rivers was asked if he'd been encouraged to devote even more minutes to his second unit.
His answer wasn't altogether a glowing one in favor of the bench guys.
"No," the Celtics coach said. "It'll encourage me to put them in at the normal time, and then if they play well. … But listen. Each game is a separate game as far as I'm concerned. You know, it goes by feel, and sometimes it goes by gut. I just felt like their intensity was at a level that our starters wouldn't have been able to match last night. And so you just ride them. But again, every game is a separate game."
The beauty of these Celtics — and the beauty of this month's NBA Finals, on the whole — is that from night to night, you just have no idea who's going to step up.
Early in the series, it was the usual suspects. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. But in Game 3, you saw an explosive fourth quarter from Derek Fisher propel the Lakers to a win, and in Game 4, it was Glen Davis and Nate Robinson who came off the Boston bench and produced when it mattered most.
You just never know.
But for the Celtics, it's great to have a second unit loaded with guys who are capable of having the big game.
"I do trust our bench," Rivers said. "So if they're playing well, it would be nice to use them. I look at it in a lot of ways with our starters, especially with the Big Three. You know, the more they're sitting, the better for them in the long run if the lead can get extended."
What happened on Thursday night in Game 4 was unexpected. The second-stringers in Doc's rotation — Davis, Robinson, Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen — were on the floor to open the fourth quarter simply because the starters needed rest. But they managed to turn a game that the Celtics trailed at the break 62-60 into a sizable Boston lead, and Doc left them out there.
He said if the lead was cut to six, that's when he'd throw the starters back in.
Davis said he wished he'd known that. He just wouldn't have let the lead hit six.
The Celtics' bench guys just kept playing, and then kept pushing the lead. To seven, to eight, to nine. On a night when no one expected Glen Davis and Nate Robinson to be the center of attention, they were becoming exactly that. And they weren't afraid of the moment.
"I think our young guys are loose," said Rivers. "They're extremely confident. You know, just watching Baby and Nate in the postgame interview, you wouldn't have thought that they were in a world championship the way they were acting. That's just who they are. And sometimes that's really good, and sometimes it's really bad. But when you're down, I think it's good, because they don't care, they're just going to play anyway, and that's a good thing."
Earlier this season, Davis was out of commission. An altercation with an old friend back in October had left him with a broken thumb and sidelined him for two months. Now he's here.
"I think he's matured more than anything," Rivers said. "And he's still maturing. He still has a ways to go. But I think he's becoming more comfortable in his own skin. He accepts who he is."
Robinson, meanwhile, was even further from this stage a few months ago. A deep disconnect between him and Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni this winter left him in the doghouse, fearing for his job security.
He'd been in the NBA five seasons, but never sniffed the playoffs before. He got his chance in Boston.
"Nate grew up during the playoffs," Rivers said. "It took him a while. He bought in, is a better way of putting it. I think he bought into what we were doing. It took him a while. When he first came in, he wanted to play like he had played all his career, and it just took him some time. You could tell in the practices — demeanors changed, he was less talk, he was focused, less mistakes, and when you do that, that gives the coach confidence to put you in the game."
He's in there now.
So is Davis. So is Tony Allen, who was nothing but a $2.5 million bench-warmer a few months ago, back in the regular season. So is Rasheed Wallace, who earlier this year became the most vilified free-agent pickup in Boston since Julio Lugo.
They're all a big part of the Celtics' plans now, all making their voices heard. And you can't deny it — they're outplaying the Lakers' bench considerably. You're not seeing Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown up at that postgame podium anytime soon.
It takes more than five guys to win a championship in this league. The Celtics' second unit is proving that with a first-rate NBA Finals.