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Celtics have plenty to shout about after second-teamers star in win

BOSTON -- Of course the Celtics expected to win Game 4 to even the NBA Finals at 2-2. But they did not expect to win with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo on the bench for most of the fourth quarter. Nor did they expect to see Glen (Big Baby) Davis and Nate Robinson sharing a postgame news conference.

The two backups sat beside each other Thursday night in front of the TV cameras and microphones. They sounded like normal, everyday citizens who would be featured on the local news for doing something unpredictably remarkable.

"I was really looking at the clock,'' said Davis after scoring 18 points in 22 minutes. "Like, when is he going to come get me?''

He was trying to say how surprised he was that Celtics coach Doc Rivers had kept them in the game for 9:09 of the closing quarter. "I was thinking the same thing,'' said Robinson after scoring 12 points in 17 minutes. "It was fun today.''

"I want to give Doc a hug, man,'' said Davis. "I love Doc.''

"Tell him thank you,'' agreed Robinson.

The roundabout, unexplored path to a 96-89 victory was managed by Rivers' decision to start the fourth quarter with a most unlikely lineup. The Celtics were trailing the game they had to win, 62-60, and on the floor for the final 12 minutes were 34-year-old Ray Allen and four second-stringers. Allen was 2-of-21 over his previous seven quarters, which was a surprise of one kind. The surprise his four teammates would create alongside him was of another kind entirely.

The bench was a Celtics weakness as they launched their unsettled postseason not quite two months ago. But that weakness has turned into a strength based on the play of Rasheed Wallace and Tony Allen, who complemented Davis and Robinson to outscore the Lakers 25-15 while their unit dominated the fourth quarter. "I don't know about surprised, but I was happy,'' said Rivers. "For the most part it was against their starters, and that's what was impressive about it.''

The first sign came when Robinson stripped Lakers guard Jordan Farmar and dove for the ball while calling timeout, showing his steal to the fans like it was a football from the bottom of the pile. Then, Davis converted the first of his three ensuing layups to push the Celtics in front 66-64.

"I just felt like a beast,'' said Davis, who scored his nine fourth-quarter points after being angered by a couple of earlier misses. "I just felt like I couldn't be denied.''

He wasn't the only one. Davis' heat was warming Allen, who finished a drive and then recovered a bobbled dribble to can a mid-range jumper without thinking, which is the best way for any shooter to escape a slump. There was a lot of that going on now -- instinctive, impulsive, high-strung basketball that is not usually associated with a team of so much age and experience as these Celtics. Which is why Rivers kept the young legs in the game. The tired legs of the starters were replaced by jumpy agitation as the Celtics chased down a loose ball and passed it ahead to Tony Allen with Davis trailing to finish an offensive rebound. Boston was up 70-64, the Lakers were calling timeout with 8:22 remaining, and Davis was screaming like something not quite human while Robinson jumped on his back with both arms around his trunkish neck.

"You were on my back?'' asked Davis at the news conference.

"You didn't even notice,'' said Robinson. "We're like Shrek and Donkey. You can't separate us.''

"You shouldn't have let us two get up here,'' said Davis to the audience of reporters.

I was going to compare the scream to a performance by William Hurt in the 1980 movie Altered States, when he emerged mutated from an isolation chamber and scared the devil out of Blair Brown. But Shrek and Donkey was a better comparison. Before the 5-foot-9 Robinson had begun to earn his way off the bench this postseason, he'd been as unreliable as Donkey. Anyone who has ever seen the 6-9, 289-pound Davis doesn't need to be told why a teammate was comparing him to Shrek.

There were two points to be made of this primal scream. The first was that Davis has benefited from three seasons alongside Garnett, who has taught him to channel his emotions (when he hasn't been forcing Davis to cry, like during his second year). The second was that Rivers was sticking out his own neck by investing so much fourth-quarter time in Robinson and Davis, because if it backfired, then guess who would be blamed for keeping his three stars on the bench? But Rivers was believing what he was seeing, and when Robinson finished a runner in the lane to build the lead to 83-74, Rivers responded by calling Rondo, Pierce and Garnett away from the scorers' table and back to the sideline with 4 minutes remaining.

"All I was doing was looking at the score,'' said Rivers. "I told my coaches at the six-minute mark, 'Six points is the number.'''

Had the Lakers come within two possessions, Rivers explained that he would have begun shuttling scorers back into the game one at a time. He added that none of his starters was complaining about his view of the game. "I'm glad to know that now,'' said Davis. "So we won't let it get to six points.''

The secret of this Celtics season is that another cavalry is always on the way. First came young Rondo to create open shots for his older teammates, then the revival of Rasheed, and the multifaceted rehabilitations of Tony Allen and Davis, who missed the opening weeks of the season after a silly punching incident with a friend resulted in a broken right thumb. Then came Robinson to the audacious rescue in the Eastern Conference finale against Orlando after Rondo had injured his back. The risk of relying on young legs is that young heads are attached to them, and so when Robinson earned a fourth-quarter technical for taunting Lamar Odom, Rivers and Ray Allen quickly scolded him to play under control. But the risk was worthwhile in exchange for Robinson's fourth quarter of six points, two assists, a steal and no turnovers.

"They had their backs against the wall tonight, and they played desperate and they got away with it,'' said Lakers coach PhilJackson, who was disappointed that his team didn't reply with composure. "Their animation and their activity level affected us.''

Every night seems to turn this Finals on its head. Now the Lakers approach Game 5 here Sunday -- usually the crucial game in a tight series -- wondering if center AndrewBynum will be able to play after he missed all but two minutes of the second half with a sore knee. In Bynum's absence the Celtics outrebounded their guests 41-34 while outscoring them in the paint (54-34), in transition (15-2) and on second-chance points (20-10). The Celtics look forward with hope that PaulPierce, who returned to score seven points over the final three minutes, can build on his solid 19-point performance.

Now it's up to the old legs to carry them through Game 5, knowing they might not be two wins away from a championship, if not for the young. "I don't think that what we did today was on the scouting report,'' said Davis. Be assured, Mr. Shrek, the scouting report is longer this morning.

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