BOSTON – The call had come at 3 a.m. in late October, and Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers had to hear his general manager Danny Ainge tell him again. What happened to Big Baby? … What? Opening night awaited hours away, and this news needed repeating for a groggy coach with a championship roster.
Out of a sweet slumber, into a pure nightmare, Rivers was told about one more idiotic act from an immature kid.
Only him, Rivers had to think. Only this clown show.
Somehow, Glen Davis(notes) had gotten into a fistfight late that night in his SUV. He had been out with his buddy and their girlfriends. An old high school buddy, the driver had thrown a punch and Big Baby decided he’d return a jab to the joker holding the steering wheel. His SUV was on the move, and his season threatened to come to a crashing end.
Davis had a new $6.3 million contract, a shiny new cast for his broken hand and a fib for Rivers when the coach reached him hours later on the phone. He gave Davis a chance to tell the truth, and Big Baby’s instincts were still wrong, because he started down a dark road of deceit.
“He tried to another route with me at first,” Rivers said late Thursday outside the Celtics’ locker room. And that didn’t go too well for Davis because Rivers knew the truth. Davis’ lie only enraged Rivers. Bad idea, Doc told him. Bad, bad idea.
And soon, Big Baby was blubbering on the phone, crying and crying. And perhaps that was because it didn’t sound so much like an angry coach, but a disappointed dad.
“You’ve only got one name,” Rivers told him. “You’ve only got one reputation.” Soon, the guilt just washed over, and Big Baby Davis cried and cried. It wouldn’t be until 27 games later – until Christmas Day – that Davis made his season debut for the Celtics. His immature act had to be tolerated because the Celtics needed him, and on Thursday night there was Davis standing in the center of the Garden, the spittle dripping from his chin.
“If I slobber, snot, spit, please excuse me,” Davis demurred. “Kids, don’t do that.”
Davis had the time of his life in Game 4, grabbing another lost soul with him to deliver this 96-89 victory. He found tiny Nate Robinson(notes) and together they made it impossible for Rivers to take them out of the game’s final minutes. Rivers let them loose on the Lakers, and they turned a two-point deficit into an 11-point lead. Davis flexed and preened, playing part Barkley, part Vince McMahon. The Celtics’ championship chase is still alive, because Big Baby Davis had 18 points, five rebounds – four of them offensive – and two steals, because Glen Davis turned those October tears into June hellfire.
“I felt like a beast,” he declared.
After the October incident, Davis didn’t want to be called Big Baby anymore. No one listened to him. Glen never fit, never will. He’s a cartoon character, a pro wrestler moonlighting as a peculiarly proportioned 6-foot-8, 300-pound forward. After everyone talked about the Big Three and Rajon Rondo(notes) needing to deliver the Celtics to a telltale victory over the Lakers, they were reduced to cheerleaders for most of the fourth quarter. Here were Davis and Robinson, Rasheed Wallace(notes) and Tony Allen(notes), taking on Kobe Bryant(notes) and Pau Gasol(notes), taking on the Lakers’ dynasty in the Finals.
Along the way, Davis picked up a clown prince of a partner. Robinson was shunned himself, disenfranchised and exiled to the end of the New York Knicks’ bench. When Davis had played the part of a dunderhead for the Celtics, Robinson had endeared himself to the Knicks coach for matter-of-factly throwing a shot into the wrong basket after the buzzer sounded at the end of a quarter.
Ainge believed he needed someone with an ability to spark these Celtics in the playoffs, and the trade has been immense for them. Robinson plays the fool, but he matches Davis’ clowning with a spirit and speed these older Celtics desperately needed.
The lingering image of that fabulous fourth quarter would be Davis flexing, screaming to the sellout crowd, and Robinson leaping onto his back for an eventual ride back to California in the series. When it was over, they sat on the podium where Kevin Garnett(notes) and Paul Pierce(notes) normally speak in measured, modest tones, and turned the news conference into a lounge act.
Someone suggested Robinson’s leap onto Davis was something of a poignant moment, but Davis had a hard time remembering that in the mayhem of the Celtics evening the series.
“You were on my back?” Davis asked Robinson.
Robinson stayed straight-faced, shook his head and said, “You didn’t even notice.” And then, with the room still his, with the stage belonging to this improbable pair, little Nate Robinson laughed and said, “We’re like Shrek and Donkey.”
After such a knucklehead start to the season, Davis had come a long way to have a teammate on his back. Truth be told, he had carried a lot of them on Thursday. Lakers center Andrew Bynum(notes) had to sit most of the night with that damaged knee, and Davis moved into the middle and just destroyed the Lakers.
A long, long way from that 3 a.m. call to Doc Rivers, from Davis weeping and desperate for forgiveness. Rivers gave him a lecture about responsibility, about letting down the organization with such a stupid stunt. Eventually, Big Baby would come back and apologize to his teammates. He said he would never disappoint them like that again, that he would get well and get to work to get them a championship. He owed them one, owed them big.
“He apologized to everyone, and in some ways, that’s helped him,” Rivers said late Thursday on his way to his office, on the way to a Game 5 that Glen Davis and his little buddy Nate Robinson gave the Celtics.
“It didn’t help us then, but in the long run it’s helped us now,” Rivers said.
All those tears, all that humiliation and regret, were gone now. Big Baby Davis stood in the middle of the Garden, and let the drool hang off his chin and let the love wash over him. Like a beast, he said. Like a beast.