If, as the old proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a Big Baby and his friends to raise a championship banner.
It has become abundantly clear that if the Celtics are to win this series and their second NBA title in three years, it's not going to be on the backs of the Big Three or the Core Four or the Starting Five or a certain eccentric Sixth Man. It's going to take The Rotation.
The bench was the story of Game 4, pulling away from the Lakers in the fourth quarter by scoring 21 of their 36 points and 21 of the Celtics' overall 36 points in the period to lock up the series, 2-2, heading into Sunday's Game 5. For all the talk about the emergence of Rajon Rondo and the resurgence of Kevin Garnett during these playoffs, the Celtics best games have not come when there has been a virtuoso performance, but rather a collaborative one.
Games 2 and 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Cleveland they put six players in double figures. Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals they had a half dozen double-digit scorers. All were pivotal, series-altering victories. Last night with the season on the line, the Celtics put six men in double digits on the scoresheet again, with Davis (18 points) and Nate Robinson (12 points) joining Paul Pierce (team-high 19 points), Kevin Garnett (13), Ray Allen (12) and Rajon Rondo (10).
"I think it was our best win of the year, as far as a team effort," said Rondo.
Last night is the Green's blueprint for how they obtain Banner No. 18. It's the reason that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are planning a superstar free agent summit while the Celtics are still playing to reach the game's summit. It's the reason that the best center in the game, Dwight Howard, is preparing to hawk a line of Superman-inspired clothing instead of donning his jersey for NBA Finals games.
It's also the only way the Celtics are going to overcome the indomitable will and incredible shot-making of Kobe Bryant with two of the next three games in Los Angeles. Long before the Patriot Way, the Celtics were a franchise that prided itself on balance and teamwork. Doc Rivers's group is just going retro.
"It is [the blueprint], said Rondo. "We play great as a team. It wasn't one person that won the game tonight, and that's what it's going to take to win the series."
In this series, Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Rondo and Davis are averaging double-figures. The Lakers only have Kobe, who is dropping 28.3 per game, Pau Gasol (20.5) and the banged-up Andrew Bynum (10.5) doing it on their side.
We remember the 2008 NBA Finals for Pierce's MVP performance, KG's dominance and Ray Allen's marksmanship, but the bench came up huge. That was one of the biggest questions before this series -- did the Celtics pine of the present match up to its reserve stock of the past? The resounding answer is yes, minus Robinson's ill-advised Napoleon complex technical foul in the fourth quarter.
Davis is a bigger, badder, more skilled version of Leon Powe. Robinson isn't a better shooter than House, but he can hit threes too and can drive the lane like House never could. Tony Allen has taken over Posey's role as the Kobe stopper, and Rasheed Wallace, bad back and all, is quite an upgrade over the venerable P.J. Brown.
It was in Game 4 two years ago that the bench turned the tide in that Celtics-Lakers series. James Posey and Eddie House sparking the comeback from 24 down (20 mid-way through the third quarter). Posey had 18 points in that game and House had 11, eerily similar to what Davis and Robinson put up last night.
The Celtics bench has outscored the Lakers bench in each of the four games of the series, and Lakers coach Phil Jackson mentioned last night that not getting more out of his bench led to Bryant and Gasol being gassed in the final period.
"Their bench was huge," said Lakers sixth man Lamar Odom.
The Lakers have the best leading man in this series, Kobe. That is not even disputable, but the best supporting cast clearly belongs to the Celtics. T-E-A-M trumps K-O-B-E.
Just how much help His Kobeness gets in this series could determine the outcome. Bynum, who played just 1 minute 50 seconds of the second half because of the partially torn meniscus in his right knee, has become arguably the linchpin of the series for the Lakers. Bynum didn't play in the finals two years ago due to a dislocated knee cap in his other knee. The difference is obvious.
His presence in the paint alters the game and deepens the Lakers bench by letting Odom be a fresh reinforcement. Beyond Odom, LA doesn't have much to count on. Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown have both had their moments in the series, but they're not exactly reliable pieces for the Purple and Gold.
Pierce, Ray Allen and Garnett all learned the hard way throughout their careers that it's hard to win it on your own. They appreciate team basketball.
"KG, he don't like it when they say it's the Big Three or the Big Four. He likes it when it's team," said Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. "Any time he get an award he always brings his team because it's done within the team. ...That's all we preach is team around here."
Team has the Celtics back in this series and team is exactly what it will take to for them to finish off the Lakers and finish the Finals as champions.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.