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Robinson finally making most of his time

He has earned Rivers’s trust

By Nate Taylor
Globe Correspondent / June 11, 2010

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The message is clear to Nate Robinson. Sure, it might have taken longer for it to sink in than Robinson or Doc Rivers expected, but at this point of the postseason Robinson is happy he has won his coach’s trust.

Appearing in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the 26-year-old knows the importance of finding ways to help the Celtics win. That means he has to do anything, and everything, Rivers wants.

And that’s fine with Robinson, because he knows this: The only players who see the floor in the Finals are the ones Rivers has faith in. And Robinson has become one of those guys.

Against the Lakers, Rivers has used Robinson to give Rajon Rondo rest. And the results have been there. In limited playing time, Robinson has been mostly productive, as in the Celtics’ win in Game 2 in Los Angeles when he scored 7 points in just six minutes — a performance that was hard to imagine a month ago.

“I’ve been given the opportunity,’’ Robinson said before last night’s Game 4. “He’s put me on the biggest stage, and hopefully I can keep that confidence in my coach.’’

After being acquired from the Knicks Feb. 18, Robinson was looked upon to provide an element of explosiveness. Rivers, along with the rest of the league, knew the 5-foot-9-inch Robinson was a flashy scorer but not a solid defender. So the issue soon became whether Robinson was committed to Rivers’s defensive philosophy.

Early on, he wasn’t. Robinson made errors on the floor and had trouble finding his role, which led to him mostly sitting on the bench for the last month of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. Simple things such as how to defend the pick-and-roll were proving difficult.

“I didn’t know what I was doing when I first came,’’ he said.

So Robinson had to watch and learn. During that time, he studied the offensive system with Rondo, who helped ease the transition. Practice also became a place where Robinson could impress with hustle plays on defense.

“The reason Nate is playing is because he’s bought into our defense,’’ Rivers said. “Early on he just didn’t know it and he hadn’t bought in yet, and now he has.’’

At the beginning of the playoffs, Rivers told Robinson to be ready. At some point, Rivers was going to look down at his bench and need Robinson to play well.

In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Orlando, Robinson was given his opportunity.

After Rondo needed a rest to start the second quarter, Robinson played his best game since the trade, scoring 13 points in 13 minutes to give the Celtics a comfortable lead in the 96-84 series-clinching win. But scoring wasn’t the only part of his game that had improved. Robinson could always score. What Rondo and Rivers saw was how Robinson put pressure on the ball and increased ball movement on offense.

“He’s a very smart player,’’ Rondo said. “He’s continuing to grow as a point guard as far as running the team.’’

Since then, Robinson has played in each game of the Finals. Although he knows Rondo will see a vast majority of the playing time, Robinson said he doesn’t have to score to help the Celtics win the title. He can play defense. He can run the offense. And he can continue to play with the passion that Celtics fans have come to enjoy.

“The more energy I bring the better defense I play, the better offense I play,’’ Robinson said.

With the Knicks, Robinson mostly just tried to score to win games. With the Celtics, he understands Rivers when it comes to being a scrappy defender and how important defense is to winning a championship.

“I’m going to do everything I can,’’ Robinson said. “Just like in real life, people don’t appreciate all the little things that people do. If you do the little things like diving on the floor to win, that’s what you have to do.’’

Nate Taylor can be reached at ntaylor@globe.com.

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