He fit in and got right to the point
People said this Marbury thing was a roll of the dice, and last night Luck was a fine and proper Lady for the Boston Celtics.
Playing in his first legitimate game of high-level basketball in more than four months, the controversial ex-Timberwolf, ex-Net, ex-Sun, and, most famously, ex-Knick made a major contribution as the Celtics defeated the Indiana Pacers, 104-99, at TD Banknorth Garden. Stephon Marbury was on the floor as the Celtics expanded a 77-75 three-quarter lead to a 92-79 margin that was enough of a cushion for them to withstand a late Indy surge.
"I was just so happy to be out there playing," Marbury said. "I was tired, but I found some energy. In the fourth quarter, I guess my legs just forgot what was going on."
No one, least of all Doc Rivers, knew how much Marbury would play, let alone how effective he could possibly be after such a lengthy layoff. But he walked into a situation in which the Celtics were in rather desperate need of a body. No Kevin Garnett. No Tony Allen. Not even a Gabe Pruitt.
"We're just going to throw him out there," Rivers said before the game. "Obviously, minutes will be determined by rhythm of the team, for one, because we don't have a lot of stuff in for Steph, obviously, and then, two, conditioning, because it's one thing to play against me in the gym right now and another thing to go out there on an NBA court."
Marbury played 12 minutes 39 seconds, all but 20 seconds of this total in two significant chunks. He entered the game to a standing ovation with 19.4 seconds remaining in the opening period, the Celtics leading, 26-18, and he remained for a total of 5:08.
On his second touch, he got the attention of the entire Celtics bench, not to mention the sellout crowd of 18,624, when he hit a cutting Leon Powe down the middle of the lane on a beautiful bounce pass that resulted in a pair of free throws.
"Everybody loved it," said Rivers. "It was just an instinctive play only a guard with vision can see."
Let the record show he also connected on his first shot as a Celtic, a left-side 18-footer on a feed from Eddie House.
But his big value came in the fourth quarter when the unit of House, Powe, fellow newcomer Mikki Moore, Marbury, and a smokin' Ray Allen went on a 15-4 run to create some needed space between the Celtics and a gritty Indiana team, which is down two starters (Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger) but got maximum efforts from such folks as Troy Murphy (20 points, 13 rebounds), T.J. Ford (23 points), and rookie Brandon Rush (17 points).
Marbury had 6 points and an assist in his seven minutes of playing time in the final quarter, and there is no way anyone walking in off the street without prior knowledge of the situation would arrive at any conclusion other than he was a good NBA player.
"In the second half, he was terrific," Rivers said. "You could just see his basketball IQ. One thing is that our bigs had better be ready. He can pass."
Well, yes, we all know Marbury can shoot and pass and defend and do all the technical things at a high level. But he has made himself as welcome as toxic waste in his last two stops, and he would not have been available to the Celtics if he weren't the most bizarre piece of damaged goods the NBA has seen since, well, since it started 63 years ago.
This is career redemption time for Stephon Marbury. The Celtics are getting a guy who, at 32, still has a chance for more big paydays, if only he can restore his reputation. They have come together because they are in a mutual time of great need. He needs to salvage his reputation and marketability. They need one more useful player in the backcourt.
It's that simple.
Now Danny Ainge disputes the rather widely held idea that his team was on the verge of desperation.
"I didn't feel I had to do something," he said. "I like our guys."
I don't believe that, and neither does anyone else in the league. The only way for them to keep pace with Cleveland, the Lakers, and perhaps even Orlando was to get stronger in some area. Last year their trump card was James Posey. This year it may have to be Stephon Marbury coming off the bench. Stranger things have happened. Not many, perhaps, but some.
Ainge also takes slight issue with the prevailing wisdom, which holds that the big reason this Marbury gamble might work is that he's got the strong veteran corps of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and, most of all, Kevin Garnett to keep Marbury in line. It's as if Garnett is Marbury's unofficial parole officer and Messrs. Pierce and Allen are his deputies.
"People talk a lot about the strong locker room idea," Ainge said, "but what's more important is winning. It's tough to be under that microscope when you're the best player on a team that doesn't win. Remember that Minnesota won 24 games in Kevin's last year there. It was the same with Paul here and Ray in Seattle. It's not easy when the focus is on you."
Now get ready for the crash, the 0-for-8, five-turnover game. It's coming, and it's coming soon as reality sets in and Marbury's body rebels.
"Oh, I know it's coming," acknowledged Rivers. "I just hope when it comes we can get through and win the game, but even if we can't, that will be all right. I'm just happy to know what I have. A week ago, we didn't know for sure that we'd get Steph, and Mikki Moore is something that fell out of the sky."
Stephon Marbury will continue to say all the right things, so don't be concerned with what comes out of his mouth. Just watch how he plays. The world knows he is a very gifted technician. If he really wants to be a Boston Celtic, if he really wants to resurrect his career, and if he really wants to get a ring, he will show more of those "instinctive plays only a guard with vision can see."
And he will pull for his teammates even when he's not in the game.
Stephon Marbury has too much at stake to blow this chance.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.