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Finley role to come in time

Celtic bench has been strong point

With No. 4 already taken by Nate Robinson, newest Celtic Michael Finley will don No. 40. “I was two weeks too late,’’ he said. With No. 4 already taken by Nate Robinson, newest Celtic Michael Finley will don No. 40. “I was two weeks too late,’’ he said. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 9, 2010

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As he fielded questions Sunday for the first time as a member of the Celtics, Michael Finley found himself having to explain how he chose the No. 40.

All the good numbers - Larry Bird’s 33 and Kevin McHale’s 32, for example - are hanging in the TD Garden rafters, and the No. 4 he had worn in Phoenix, Dallas, and San Antonio was unavailable thanks to teammate Nate Robinson.

“I was two weeks too late,’’ Finley said with a smile. “So I just added an imaginary zero to it and made it 40.’’

The jersey was a small matter. It had been just two weeks since the Celtics made a subtle but significant change to their roster, trading locker room presence and bench leader Eddie House to New York for the younger, more dynamic Robinson. The question when they acquired Robinson at the Feb. 18 trade deadline was how long it would take to integrate the 5-foot-9-inch dynamo.

Now, in adding Finley, the Celtics have 21 games (beginning with tonight’s matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks) to determine what role the 37-year-old veteran will play and also get him accustomed to their system. They’ll do it at a point in which the bench is playing as well as it has all season.

Since the All-Star break, Boston’s reserves are averaging 29.7 points a night, and in the past five games they’ve provided a 33.8-point boost with Robinson and Glen Davis serving as catalysts.

The Celtics put Detroit away March 2 with Davis, Robinson, Tony Allen, Marquis Daniels, and Shelden Williams on the floor, playing so well that Paul Pierce said the Celtics could have gone the rest of the game without putting the starters on the floor. They extended a 10-point first-quarter lead over Charlotte into a 24-point victory March 3.

“We’re just trying to complement the first squad,’’ reserve Rasheed Wallace said. “No matter if they’re going out there playing hard or getting good shots or making good shots or not. We still have to go out there and do our job. If they’re not playing well, then we have to lift the team up. If they are playing well, then we have to build on the success and go out there and try to increase the lead.’’

Davis drifted through the early part of the season while sitting out the first two months after suffering a broken thumb in an offcourt fight. But he leads the team in offensive rebounding, and has taken on the role of doing the dirty work.

“Big Baby’s coming into his own,’’ Wallace said. “It’s something that he’s always been capable of doing. Now it’s just a matter of getting the minutes and he’s going out there and producing.’’

Robinson is a gym rat who also spends time next to video coordinator Brian Adams picking apart tape.

“Obviously, he’s comfortable with what we’re running,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “They’re all playing well and they’re playing well at a time when they get a new guy, and that helps Nate as well. If only Nate was playing well then it wouldn’t work. But the whole group is playing well. So that helps. That helps Nate.’’

Statistically, this season’s bench (26.8 points, 11.5 rebounds) and the 2008-09 bench (26.2 points, 11.6 rebounds) are a wash, even though the Celtics brought in reinforcements in Wallace and Daniels. Defensively, though, it has been more of a challenge, as Wallace is still picking up the schemes.

“The guys that are here now, they know the system,’’ point guard Rajon Rondo said. “Marquis is a smart player. Say if Paul wasn’t playing, Marquis steps in. [Tony Allen’s] been in the system five, six years. As far as bigs, when Baby comes in, he’s [experienced]. The only thing is Rasheed’s still learning the system. That may be the only exception as far as rotations on defense. Other than that, we’ve been together a long time.’’

In adding Finley, who Rivers said could be used in a number of roles, it appears the Celtics are stockpiling reserves.

“We’re just getting older and older,’’ Rivers said with a smile. “We want to see how old we can actually get.’’

The hope is that with the reserves figuring out their roles, Finley will fit right in.

“I think we know our roles,’’ Wallace said. “With the addition of Mike, another veteran, championship-caliber, who knows his role . . . I think it’ll be good for us in the long run.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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