THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Davis in a unique position

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 12, 2010

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CLEVELAND — Seven months later, Glen Davis said he is still paying the price for his impetuous actions.

“I still don’t feel I’ve gotten my game back,’’ he maintained.

He’s talking offense. Defensively, he’s fine.

“I feel good about it,’’ he said. “It’s one of my strong points, as far as help defense is concerned. I’ll be there for the next guy.’’

He’s been that way almost since Day One. Professional defense is often mystifying for young players. It’s not quite as simple as guarding your man. Take Leon Powe, for example. Who among us didn’t love Leon Powe when he had the basketball in his hands? But when they went the other way the coaches took very deep breaths, and were often afraid to look. Leon wasn’t exactly hip to the rotations. But Davis caught on immediately.

In that vein, he remains reliable. The offense is another matter.

Even if he had not cost himself the first 28 games of the regular season after requiring surgery to repair a broken right thumb sustained in a bizarre altercation with a friend (inside an SUV, no less), Davis would have had a major adjustment to make this season. Said adjustment, he said, has not yet been made.

Flashback to a year ago. Kevin Garnett was gone for the playoffs with a knee injury, and Davis was elevated to a starting role. He averaged 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds a game, and shot a healthy .491 from the floor during the Celtics’ 14-game playoff run. He had a high of 26 in Game 2 of the opening-round series against Chicago. He had back-to-back games of 21 and 22 in Games 4 and 5 of the Orlando series. He had a game-winning 17-foot jumper at the buzzer in Game 4 against Orlando.

And he loved every last second of it. You could see that starting energized him.

Two significant things have happened since then. The first is Garnett reclaimed his starting role. The second is Rasheed Wallace entered the mix.

Not starting was going to be a difficult enough adjustment for Davis to make because he so clearly thrived on the entire experience. Call it the Ham Factor, call it whatever you like. He enjoyed the spotlight.

Then introduce Wallace to the second unit. Like Davis, Wallace has a game that doesn’t necessarily fit his body type. Davis looks like he should be playing tight end for Bill Belichick. The 6-foot-11-inch Wallace should be a post-up guy. But each is more comfortable shooting from the outside than trying to score in close. And if they’re out there together, someone must yield the floor. You don’t have to be a superior student of the game to know it isn’t going to be Wallace.

Now keep in mind that Davis isn’t trying to stir up trouble. He is just responding to questions.

“Last year,’’ he said, “I was more of a popper, a jump shooter. I was getting open jump shots. Now I’m more of a roller than a guy who can get free on the perimeter.’’

He may be 6-8 and 290ish, but that doesn’t make him an automatic force inside, not in this league. It’s telling no tales out of school to say Davis may have as many of his shots blocked as anyone in the league. He doesn’t have an explosive lift. It is not an uncommon sight to see multiple attempts at the basket sent back on a Davis possession. He’s not at his best when he’s simply trying to power something up.

Surprisingly, he thrives on space. He does have a good spinning move when he has a chance to attack the basket from, say, 10 feet away, and he does have very good, quick feet and he is ambidextrous. He may be the best off-hand inside scorer the Celtics have had since Larry Bird.

He also is that rare big man with the unteachable gift of good hands. This makes him a very adept finisher in transition or in salvaging broken plays. He really can take your breath away when he pulls off some of his acrobatic moves. At those moments you can see why the Celtics made sure he was coming along with Ray Allen when they made the big trade with Seattle.

The truth is he is being excessively self-deprecating at the moment. He has been a major asset during these playoffs, in part because he is always capable of a double-figures scoring game, in part because of his aforementioned ability to execute team defensive responsibilities (and take charges, such as a big one he took on Dwyane Wade during the Miami series) and in part because some of the good things he does are unquantifiable.

It would be interesting in this era of micro-managed statistical scrutiny to know if anyone in the game is any better at procuring loose balls. I mean, ask yourself: How many players, spying a ball on the floor, and seeing Mr. Glen Davis out of the corner of their eye in an attack mode, go after that ball with, shall we say, vigor? Davis always plays hard, and he loves to throw that big body around on the open floor. Davis can affect a game with his very presence.

The totality of this year’s events might very well mark a turning point in his career. He is still dealing with the shame and embarrassment of losing a third of the season because he punched a longtime friend in retaliation as they sat in the front seat of his car. It prompted Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck to say the time had come for him to stop being known as “Big Baby.’’ Said Grousbeck, “He’s Glen. He needs to act like Glen.’’

“It was a difficult situation,’’ Davis said. “It happened in a split second. Your life can change in 30 seconds. But it’s over with. I’ve grown from it.’’

He’s only 24. The Glen Davis Story is far from complete.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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