Rivers canceled practice during a February road trip to arrange a series of 20-minute conferences with each player "to tell them where I think they're at, where they need to go, what we need to do," said Rivers, who conducts these meetings at least twice per season.
One player who responded especially well was Wallace, the 35-year-old big man, who was then playing the role of the Celtics' most disappointing player after signing a three-year contract worth $19 million last off-season. Wallace then dedicated himself to working on his shooting and after hitting just 20% of his threes at midseason, he's now shooting 40% from behind the arc in the postseason.
Similar transformations were made by Davis, Robinson and Tony Allen, who joined with Wallace to dominate the fourth quarter and win Game 4 on a night when Boston's starters lacked the energy to do the hardest work themselves.
With 1:02 left in the third quarter the Lakers were leading 62--60 and on the verge of taking a 3--1 series lead when those four Celtics subs were joined on the floor by Ray Allen, who was in the midst of an 0-for-21 slump since being kneed in the thigh by Lakers forward Ron Artest early in Game 3. Over the next nine minutes they outscored the Lakers 21--14 as Davis and Robinson attacked the basket for nine and six points, respectively, culminating in an eventual three-point putback by the 6' 9" Davis that he celebrated with a primal scream as the 5'9" Robinson wrapped both arms around his ogreish neck.
"You were on my back?" asked Davis at the news conference they shared after the 96--89 Boston win.
"You didn't even notice," said Robinson. "We're like Shrek and Donkey. You can't separate us."
Little was expected of Davis this season when he missed two months after breaking his thumb last October while punching a childhood friend during a dispute over Davis's girlfriend. "He came back in phenomenal shape, and that had to do something for his teammates," said Rivers. "Because I guarantee you, they assumed he would come back 20 pounds out of shape and couldn't play." Davis is listed (perhaps disingenuously) at 289 pounds, which has left him just nimble enough this postseason to outrun opponents in transition, and successfully guard everyone from Orlando's three-point-shooting forward Rashard Lewis to the gargantuan Howard—a display of defensive versatility that few big men can manage. Nor is Davis afraid of taking the big shot, as he proved by making a game-winning jumper at the buzzer in the playoffs last year at Orlando.
"There are a lot of people who don't like the stage, or aren't good enough to play on the stage," said Rivers. "Nate and Baby both like the stage. They love the lights."
That love was viewed as Robinson's biggest weakness during his 4½ erratic seasons with the Knicks, where he was best known as a three-time NBA slam dunk champion. He was moved to the Celtics at the February deadline in a five-player trade, but his reputation as a defensive liability kept him off the floor during crucial moments of the playoffs until Game 6 of the Eastern finals, when he filled in for an injured Rondo to score a stunning 13 points in the second quarter of Boston's closeout win.
While Rondo manages a repertoire of 45 offensive sets, the Celtics limit Robinson to three sets when he takes over the point. "You don't want Nate running a lot of stuff," said Rivers. "You want him being aggressive." Similar allowances are made for Tony Allen, who is not a consistent passer or perimeter shooter (he cocks his jump shot like an archer pulling back an arrow) but makes up for it by applying his hyperactive energies to help defend Bryant. "He's been huge, especially in games where Ray Allen and Paul Pierce haven't been effective scoring," says Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw. "Tony Allen's defense keeps the game in order for [Boston] because it doesn't allow us to break away."