BOSTON -- This unlikely Celtics team is headed back to the NBA Finals, where they believe they belong. But how did they make it this far? The unlikeliest fingerprints on the Eastern conference trophy belonged to
"Nate Robinson was huge," said Orlando coach
The story of Robinson is the latest verse in a season-long narrative of pain and doubt and happy endings. Afterwards coach
"You knew it wasn't going to happen last year," he said of
Garnett's extended rehabilitation combined with
"The last month we had a meeting,
Garnett didn't like it most of all.
"We lost leads with him sitting on the bench, and he's looking over at you," said Rivers. "I had
That backdrop made the early rounds of the playoffs so inspiring, to see the elders looking spry as 24-year-old point guard
Rondo displayed his comforting burst of speed to score a dozen points in the opening quarter Friday while launching the Celtics to a 30-19 lead. Unfortunately for him, he used that speed in the quarter's final minute to knife in between
"We've had so many injuries," said Rivers. "So, yeah, I was concerned."
At this time Rivers had no concrete idea that the solution was Robinson. Though he had played well enough in Boston's horrid Game 5 loss at Orlando to earn a place in the rotation for Game 6 -- "I had made the decision before the game, I told our staff Nate would play tonight," said Rivers --- Robinson had appeared in no more than 15:51 in this series, and not at all in the opening two games.
Robinson had been a disappointment ever since the Celtics had dealt
"During the playoffs at every single practice, I made a point of going over to him," said Rivers, who then recited his daily speech to Robinson: "Stay engaged. At some point you're going to win a game for us. I can't tell you when you're going to play, I can't tell you if you're going to play, on what night at least, but at some point you're going to win a game for us."
This was that game. The Celtics were up by a scant nine points just before Robinson let go of a well-spun three off the dribble and yelled out to the crowd, forcing an Orlando timeout. Moments later he was bounce-passing to Garnett for a cutting dunk. Then Robinson pulled up in transition for another three and backed away nodding and nodding.
"I'm not saying they're a better team without Rajon Rondo," said Van Gundy, "but tonight they were in the first half. Nate Robinson was great."
Rondo would return for the final 3:27 of the half, and he would finish with 14 points and 6 assists. But the moral of this game was the same kind of point this team has made again and again in any number of ways. When Garnett and Pierce have needed help, Rondo has been there for them. When Kendrick Perkins has been in foul trouble,
It was a tale of two point guards, one tinier than the next. Rondo had come out of nowhere to emerge as a star, and now Robinson came out of nowhere's shadow. The Finals await, preceded by five full days of needed rest.
"The first thing we said when we got in the locker room is this is where we thought we would be," said Rivers of their postgame celebration. "So don't be surprised. This is what we talked about before the season started."
They talked about the ends, but never these means. Never could they have imagined at training camp in October that Nate Robinson would be there for them at the end of May. But that's how championship stories are written. Full of little surprises.