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Surprisingly, 'Glove' has been perfect fit

Page 2 of 2 -- "The running has been great," he declared. "I'm just doing what I have to do. I like the way Doc has been using me. I play. I get my rest, and then I come in and reenergize. It's been great for me."

His numbers are solid. Rivers is employing him for 33 minutes a game. He is averaging just under 13 points while shooting a healthy 47 percent from the floor. He is averaging 6.5 assists per. He's had single-game highs of 27 points and 11 assists.

If he is no longer the player who performed in nine All-Star games while being first-team All-Defensive nine times, that's not the point. On a team with a lot of exciting young talents, plus one prime-of-life star, he provides irreplaceable wisdom, not to mention expertise in areas the others can only fantasize about. He is a security blanket for the coach.

Rivers's biggest problem with Payton is trying to manage his time. There are many nights when Doc must think, "If I had him in there, we wouldn't be screwing up right now," but then Doc remembers that Payton is 36 and there is a game tomorrow night, and perhaps two more in the three days following. That, not significantly diminished skills, is the issue with Payton being 36.

Doc sits there in the fourth quarter and waits to pull the trigger. He did so yesterday with 6:30 remaining and the Wizards in possession of an 89-87 lead. At that point, Payton had been sitting for 7 minutes 20 seconds, during which time the Celtics had been outscored, 16-10.

With Payton back in the game, the Celtics began to get better shots. They also tightened up their defense, although it would be hard to make a good case for that, with the way Larry Hughes (33 points) and Antawn Jamison (29) were knocking down shots. But the Celtics were clearly the beneficiaries of Payton's presence. And let the record show that their last basket, a hoop that made it 103-100 with 1:05 to play, was a nice right-to-left drifter artfully submitted by one Gary Payton.

He finished the day with 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting. You also feel as comfortable with him taking a big shot as anyone on the team.

According to Payton, he is about to be given more responsibility. "From now on, I'm going to make more of the calls in the fourth quarter," Payton said. "I'll be able to get everyone involved."

Whatever his deep, private thoughts about the circumstance in which he finds himself, Payton has said and done all the right things since coming to Boston. He has led by both word and deed. After helping provide yesterday's victory with the latter, he switched gears to help secure more victories with the former. "We can't win one, and then go and lose three," he pointed out. "So we need to put a couple of these together."

His celebrated bombast often obscured the fact that he is a mortal lock Hall of Fame player who has a game that may never be seen again. Now here's something I never thought I'd say: It has been a pleasure to have Gary Payton in our town.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com. 

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