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Growth spurt for guard

The difference is clear in Robinson’s game

Nate Robinson (above) has benefited from being with veterans in Boston — just ask his pal Jamal Crawford. Nate Robinson (above) has benefited from being with veterans in Boston — just ask his pal Jamal Crawford. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / November 24, 2010

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They come together in Seattle every summer, an offseason reunion. When he saw Nate Robinson this past summer, though, Jamal Crawford could see a difference.

They have known each other since the eighth grade, have played together with the Knicks. But after four months with the Celtics, going to the Finals and playing a major role in the team reaching Game 7 against the Lakers, Robinson wasn’t the same player Crawford knew.

“He’s grown up an awful lot,’’ said Crawford. “I think that he actually won a couple of games in the playoffs for them with just his energy and his impact on the game. He’s never going to back down. If you’re going to war, that’s somebody you want to be in a foxhole with.’’

Some things were the same. For one, Robinson’s decibel level never changes.

“At 6 in the morning, he’s the same as at 6 at night,’’ Crawford said. “Seriously, he’s going around, bouncing off the walls. That’s just Nate.’’

And he was still likely to go on a pick-up game scoring spree. “Nate’s a problem in the summer,’’ Crawford said. “Imagine him with no coach.’’

But the experience of being on a championship-caliber team can make you a different player, and when the Celtics swung the midseason deal for Robinson last February, Crawford knew it was the best situation for his friend.

“I was happy for him,’’ Crawford said. “He was in New York with me during some of the rough years.’’

The past two games, the Celtics have had to go without their catalyst, Rajon Rondo, but Robinson has filled in almost seamlessly at point guard. He scored 16 points in the first quarter of a loss to Toronto Sunday, and the next night against Crawford’s Hawks, he put up a 16-point, 10-assist double-double.

Being surrounded by starters only makes the game easier for Robinson.

“I thought he really needed some veterans around because he had so much talent,’’ said Crawford. “But having those veterans, it showed him how to stay professional and to take his game to the next level.’’

Rondo started the season on an absurd assist binge, leading the league with 14.3 a night, but Robinson works differently, finding shots for others but also taking some himself.

“I think he’s comfortable,’’ said Paul Pierce. “I think he really doesn’t feel any pressure in that first unit. He just goes out there and plays within the flow.

“He’s getting a lot of open shots with the guys we have out there and he’s taking advantage of it. He’s looked really good over the last two games.’’

Robinson had no trouble scoring as a Knick. After being benched 13 straight games last season, he came out and scored 45 points. He clashed with coach Mike D’Antoni, but in Boston, Rivers has found a way to reach the 26-year-old.

“Being around Doc was a huge help,’’ Crawford said. “Doc will do the best job of getting that out of him. He’s probably toned it down over there. Because in New York he was really, really [energetic]. He had a bunch of young guys. So I’m sure he’s toned it down a little bit.’’

In Robinson, Crawford (last year’s Sixth Man of the Year), and Zach Randolph and David Lee (both All-Stars last season), the Knicks have seen players they shipped out go on to be successful.

“It was tough because if we could have won there, it would have been no place like it because the city had been starving for a playoff team for a long time,’’ Crawford said. “But we weren’t able to do it. And [Robinson] had some good moments, but it was just time for him to go.

“They had to clear out everybody to get a chance at LeBron, a chance with this free agent class. In hindsight, they got Amar’e [Stoudemire] and Raymond Felton, but that’s not what the plan was when they cleared everybody out. But you’ve got to give yourself a chance, and that’s what they did.”

The Celtics have figured out a way to get the most out of Robinson.

“We urge Nate to be aggressive just like we urge Rondo to be aggressive,’’ said Kevin Garnett. “We’re a motivating team. Whoever’s out there on the floor, the thing is confidence. Nate has a lot of it.

“I think the question mark when it comes up is him running the team and he’s been doing great. So far so good and we’ve got to fuel that.

“We’ve got to continue to listen to him, and he’s making the right calls. It’s beautiful right now. He’s playing great basketball.’’

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

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