Monday May 11th, 2009

ORLANDO -- Glen (Big Baby) Davis rose up glistening in his own sweat like a baby killer whale leaping out of the water. One should be careful in guessing the thoughts of others but in this case it was simple. Most of the sellout 17,461 were relieved that it was he -- not Eddie House, not Ray Allen and not Paul Pierce, who had passed him the ball -- this second-year, second-round pick, who was taking the last shot.

Then their gasps became a bellowing groan.

Davis and the Celtics should be relieved that the NBA suspension police haven't got around to penalties for lip-reading, because as the buzzer went off while his 21-foot fallaway jumper went in, he looked up and let his audience know exactly what he felt for them in that particular moment. That reaction may keep him off the slow-motion house ads the NBA puts out during the playoffs, but it's a small price to pay in exchange for the 95-94 win Sunday (RECAP | BOX) that evened this Eastern semifinal at 2-2.

"Everyone knows I'm an emotional guy -- y'all seen me crying one time,'' said Davis, referring to the scolding he could not bear from Kevin Garnett last year. While he didn't behave as if he's been in these win-or-else situations before, the fact is he has: He made a crucial last-minute jumper from the same spot to help win a game here in January. He said, "For as long as you knew me -- Final Four, LSU -- I've been this big.''

It's no coincidence that Big is his (parenthetical) middle name. After 6-9, 289-pound Davis averaged 4.5 points as a rookie for the champion Celtics, Doc Rivers told him "to work on two things,'' the coach recalled. "Pushing himself away from the dinner table, and the jump shot.''

His jumper of last year, ironically, was lacking in curve. "It was flat, a line drive,'' said Rivers. "The only change we made was arc.''

After 6-10 Rashard Lewis (22 points) had leaped for Davis and swung at his last shot like mighty Casey at the bat, Rivers applauded the result of Big Baby's hard work. "Missed by a half-inch,'' said Rivers. "That arc was what saved that shot.''

Coming off their worst defensive showing of the playoffs in Game 3, the Celtics avoided a 3-1 series deficit by limiting Orlando to 40.0 percent overall and 66 points over the final three quarters. The night began unfavorably for its hero, however, when Davis was benched 46 seconds into the game after drawing a blocking foul against Rashard Lewis. Rivers said it was nothing personal, that he needed to save the remainder of Davis's fouls to be used against Howard (23 points, 17 rebounds and 3 blocks) later in the game.

Davis appreciates Rivers's needs, though he could live without the coach's wisecracks about pushing away from the dinner table. But why fight the obvious. "Some guy before the game (told him), 'Oh, you're 289? I don't believe you. You look like you're 389,''' Davis said. "Everybody jokes about it, but I'm going to play the game of basketball no matter how big I am. If I get smaller, you never know, I might be one of the stars of this league someday.''

Why not? At his current salary of $711,517 -- which Garnett eclipses in two and a half games -- Davis is one of the league's bigger bargains, and more effective than any bailout program, while providing an impressive 15.9 postseason points per game as the starter in place of Garnett and his injured stand-in Leon Powe. As a free agent this summer, Davis's salary will rise at a much steeper arc than his newfound shot.

His elevation to the starting lineup has left a massive hole in the Celtics bench, which was outscored 31-2 by Orlando. Center Kendrick Perkins (12 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks) once again offset Howard's dominant numbers in the paint, even after reinjuring his left shoulder so painfully that he had to sit out for two minutes of the final 4:47. At the other end, Pierce was driving Boston's offense by jamming the ball inside for much of his game-high 27, while in turn Rajon Rondo (21 points and 14 rebounds) and Davis (21 and 6) thrived off Pierce. The Celtics shot 52.8 percent overall, including 37-of-62 inside the three-point line.

But Hedo Turkoglu worked Pierce into foul trouble that sidelined him for 16 minutes, and Lewis and masked rookie Courtney Lee hit big shots down the stretch to cut down the 79-71 advantage Boston had taken into the fourth quarter. Back and forth went the lead in the final minute as Howard overcame his unreliability at the line to swish two big free throws, and Davis answered by knocking down a foreboding jumper on a kickout from Pierce. Then Davis fouled Lewis on a weakside drive, leading to a Boston timeout with 11.3 seconds remaining and a one-point deficit to overcome.

As drawn up by Rivers in the huddle, the first option would be Ray Allen, the second would Pierce out top and then, if all else failed, Big Baby. "I wanted to make sure I knew what I was supposed to do,'' said Davis. And he did it by rolling away from his screen as both Lewis and Howard converged upon Pierce. One long arcing moment later everyone associated with the Celtics went flying here and there as if their bench was made of flubber.

"We're asking him to do a lot in such a short period of time in the league,'' said Pierce. ``We're asking him to go guard Rashard Lewis, we're asking him to guard Dwight Howard -- the two best players.''

But taking and making a last-second shot that may extend a team's postseason is another thing entirely. A lot of players simply aren't up to it.

"You've got to be focused when you take a shot like that,'' Davis said. "You've got to think without thinking.''

It helps to be big.

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