Robinson a work in progress in expanded role

Nate Robinson celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer against Orlando, one of just two shots he made in 15 attempts. Nate Robinson celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer against Orlando, one of just two shots he made in 15 attempts. (Kevin Kolczynski/Reuters)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 27, 2010

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ORLANDO — Nate Robinson already had showered. His clothes were hanging in his locker. But he was too busy thinking to get dressed immediately.

Still digesting the Celtics’ first loss in more than a month, an 86-78 Christmas defeat to the Magic, Robinson stayed in the locker room longer than nearly everyone else, seemingly paralyzed by his 2-for-15 shooting in the game.

He sat in his chair, back to the rest of the room, with a stat sheet in hand, appearing to be memorizing the numbers.

Coach Doc Rivers, knowing that Robinson logged 43 minutes for the second time in three games when he hadn’t logged that many in two seasons, came to his guard’s defense.

And knowing that before his shot abandoned him in Orlando, Robinson was shooting 53.4 percent and averaging 15.3 points a night in seven games of fill-in duty for Rajon Rondo, forward Kevin Garnett called it one off night.

“Nate missed some shots he usually makes,’’ Garnett said.

Robinson took to Twitter to own up.

“I take full responsibility for this game,’’ he tweeted. “I couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean . . . Gotta make some shots for my team. Sorry guys.’’

In the past few weeks, Robinson’s gone from understudy to playing one of the more important roles in the offense, and he’s handled the change so well that it’s easy to overlook how difficult the task really is.

Not only is he replacing Rondo. He’s essentially the Celtics’ only option at the point besides rookie Avery Bradley.

At the same time, being a starter is relatively new territory for Robinson. In his career, he’s started just 68 games. Since his rookie season in 2005-06, when he started 26 times for the Knicks, Robinson never has started more than 17 games in a season.

He’s started eight for the Celtics already, and with Rondo out for the foreseeable future resting the left ankle he sprained in New York Dec. 15, he’ll have to continue to adjust.

The shots Robinson is used to seeing, when he would burn teams for going under screens because they had prepared so much for Rondo, aren’t there as often anymore.

“You notice when Rondo was playing, Nate came in and he always got the early threes, the early shots,’’ Rivers said. “But now teams are starting to gameplan for that.’’

“He just has to get used to maybe playing a lot of minutes,’’ said forward Paul Pierce. “We don’t know when Rondo is going to come back. He’s definitely filling in Rondo’s role, and it’s a different game when you start than coming off the bench.

“He has to have a different type of mentality at the start, and I try to tell him, you can’t ease into these games. When you’re starting the game, you have to have it from the start.’’

At times over the past three games, Pierce has been more assertive about bringing the ball up and taking on point guard responsibilities, sometimes waving off Robinson.

Both are doing what they feel is best for the team — Pierce trying to be more of a playmaker, Robinson deferring to the captain — but Rivers said, “When you’re a point guard, you don’t ask, you demand, ‘Give me the ball.’ ’’

Robinson’s natural knack is scoring — he’s a shooting guard in a point guard’s body — and that is one of the few things the Celtics don’t have when Rondo’s on the floor.

“Nate’s a better shooter,’’ Rivers said. “There’s no doubt about that. He spaces the floor for us.’’

But there’s a clear disadvantage, and it shows every time Rivers gets up from the bench and starts barking plays and making hand signals at Robinson.

“What it does for us, it takes away about 70 percent of our offense because Rondo’s so good at running our sets,’’ said Rivers.

“If you’ve noticed, I’m up more now, because I have to call almost all of them now, which I never want to do. You want your point guard to have such a grasp of the offense that you’re running in transition, you’re running right into your sets.

“With Nate, he just doesn’t have that grasp. That’s just not who he is, really.’’

One of the biggest benefits to the Celtics bringing in Delonte West before the season was that when West ran the point, it allowed Robinson to think less about orchestrating the offense and more about scoring. But West is injured, too, out with a broken wrist.

Now, Robinson has to be a floor general again, and for better or worse he’s faced the change head-on.

“I think for the most part he’s been playing very well for us in these games over the last stretch with Rondo out,’’ Pierce said.

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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