'Big Baby' brings spark to otherwise lackluster Celtics victory

Mike Fine

It used to be that Sunday afternoon games meant the NBA on CBS, a large national following, playoff implications and down-to-the-wire viciousness at the old Garden.

So when the Celtics found themselves playing a 12:30 game at the new Garden for the first time in about an eon-and-a-half, it seemed to signal a return to the good old days.

Sundays used to be when the Sixers and Lakers were the embodiment of evil, when the old Garden crowds did their best work, when Larry and Kevin and Robert did their best work.

Who would ever have thought, then, that when the Celtics had a chance to get back on that Sunday-afternoon stage, even without the national TV audience, that they would initially go thud -- and that rookie Glen "Big Baby" Davis would be the catalyst to an 80-70 win over the LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers?

While Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were doing something they hadn't done this season -- each scored in single figures -- Davis took care of that.

Davis played 22 minutes, adding nine points, seven rebounds and a block before fouling out, and as soon as he entered the game in the second half (he played nine minutes of the first), the Celtics reversed much of the sluggishness they'd exhibited, almost immediately increasing a hard-fought 12-point lead to 21 in short order.

"We just didn't have the energy that we normally come out with," Pierce said. "I don't know if part of it was being early, I don't know if part of it was LeBron (James) not playing, but we usually come out with a better start, especially at home."

On top of that, the Garden crowd in no way, shape or form represented the Sunday afternoon crowds of the old Garden. In fact, it barely represented the normal crowd of the new Garden.

"I don't think it was a normal crowd," Pierce said. "We didn't get any energy from the crowd, the energy buildup of Cleveland coming back in here full strength. It had to come from us."

The energy, though, came from Davis, who is seeing increased playing time as his performance improves. Perhaps because he didn't play at Miami on Saturday, but more likely because he displays a zest for the job, Davis is earning steady plaudits from everyone who plays with him and sees him. Not bad for a kid who was drafted in the second round (35th) by Seattle, coming to Boston in the Ray Allen trade.

In fact, Davis is fast becoming the most popular Celtic in the locker room because of his riotous, infectious personality that is stowed away when on the court.

"Big Baby is the personality of the Boston Celtics," Garnett said. "He has an aura around him which follows him, which he carries on and off the court... It just so happens that he's a rookie, so watch out, y'all."

"He really spark-plugged us," Pierce said. "The way he played defensively, on the offensive boards, even with the blocked shot he had at the end of the (third) quarter, it was big."

The other side, though, is what his teammates also love: "He's fun to be around," Pierce said, laughing. "He's a funny guy, that's all I can say."

"That's just who I am sometimes," Davis said. "My personality lights up a whole room sometimes. One key thing: One trait of a good team and chemistry is having laughter. Sometimes I try to be that guy."

It took Davis a while, though, to learn when to be that guy and when to zip his lips and do the job that he's getting paid ($427,163) to do.

"Y'know, it took me a while to figure that out," he said. "More and more I came to practice every day, more and more I woke up. This is a job, this is my job and now the repetition I've had and the intensity and the preparation and just the mental aspect of it has helped me tremendously.

"I want to be in the game when it counts, whether it's for the finals or conference finals or because I executed a pick. Basketball's a fun sport, but it's a job ... and when you come out on the court it's a business and it's a team and that's the approach I have to take. I gotta get in character."

Celts coach Doc Rivers says he noticed Davis starting to spend more time reading scouting reports, really understanding his job. The result was that he replaced Garnett, of all people, Sunday, and remained in the game later while Kendrick Perkins took a seat. In the long run, this performance, and another like it in Thursday's blowout win over the Knicks, have enabled Rivers to give his starters a major rest.

"I'm just thinking about when he (Rivers) calls my name, what can I do to help the team and to separate myself form my others? Energy, playing on defense and on offense, just executing. That's my main focus right now. I just want to go out there and help my team and allow them to trust me."

It's to the point now after two straight home games in which the Celtics improved to 9-0/14-2 that the crowd trusts him, too. When he picked up his sixth personal foul late in the fourth quarter, he received a standing ovation from the Garden crowd.

It wasn't exactly the same type of ovation the original Big 3 might have received after beating Philly, but it was a highlight of a Sunday that otherwise didn't quite measure up.

The Patriot Ledger