There's still a little part of Nate Robinson that is a Knick. It's the guy who during his pregame workout is tossing up shots from behind the backboard while Tony Allen and Michael Finley are going through their respective warm-up routines. It's the guy taking three-quarter shots in practice. That's the Nate we knew and loathed.
That's the Nate that is one win away from owning an NBA championship ring.
The Celtics love him right now and for good reason. His energy is a big part of the success of the Celtics bench, which has dominated the Lakers bench in this series. Doc Rivers can live with the emotional outbursts and the showmanship because a. the Celtics are winning (it's a little more acceptable than when you're doing it on a team 15 games under .500) and b. he uses Robinson in small (no pun intended) doses.
"We don't have to be tough, especially at whatever height you are," Rivers said after Game 4, when Nate picked up an unnecessary fourth-quarter tech. "But that's who he is."
Rivers was the one who pushed the Celtics to get Robinson from the Knicks. The initial inquiry came while Nate was chained to the bench in December, as yet another Knicks coach lost his patience with him. A trade was done before the Feb. 18 deadline and, though it took a little time for Robinson to find a comfort zone, he's emerged as a key figure in Rivers' rotation.
"I just felt like, you know how you get transferred from school, you're the new kid and you're kind of nervous?" Robinson said. "And when the whole team, the whole class, just welcomes you with open arms and makes it easy for you to feel loved. I was like, 'Yeah, I'm at home.' I feel safe, I feel loved and I feel like they need me to do one thing, which is bring energy and be along for this ride."
What a ride it's been so far. I told Nate I'd seen him play a lot in July, but never in June. He grinned and said it was like a dream for him. "This," he said, "is the greatest moment of my basketball career."
Some Knicks fans - and, apparently, media - are having a hard time with this. The misguided notion is that the Knicks must have failed with Robinson. Completely untrue.
Nate is exactly where he needs to be: in a set role with controlled minutes and accomplished veterans around him who can keep him in check (recall Ray Allen scolding him by the bench after his silly tech for getting in Lamar Odom's face, er, chest..).
Robinson entered a locker room that had a championship team and high expectations. He had to find his niche and it didn't come easily.
With the Knicks, there were no standards. Robinson was the class clown and the veterans around that team did little to keep him in check because, well, he was too damn entertaining and no one really expected to win.
Nate isn't the kind of player who can create a winning environment, but he is the type who can make it funner. Just look at how boring the Lakers look in contrast. Even when they win, the Lakers just don't have much that is anything entertaining about them (By the way, Odom and Ron Artest look absolutely miserable, what is the deal with that?).
Let it be said here that in this Celtics-Lakers matchup, Nate is the one providing Showtime. He and Glen Davis, the duo that proclaimed itself, 'Shrek and Donkey', have become a comedy routine.
The other issue with Robinson in New York was that the Knicks never really had a consistent backcourt over the last three seasons. Robinson's ability to have big scoring nights caused an irrational campaign for him to get starter's minutes, which was just too much for him in the Knicks' situation.
Nate's game just isn't stable enough to be a starting point guard who plays major minutes as the primary decision-maker. You need to have a ball-dominant star who can keep him in check.
But off the bench as an energizer, he is perfect. He plays the crowd, gets his teammates fired up and can be a matchup problem for opponents. What Nate is doing now with the Celtics that he didn't do often enough -- no matter how much Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas and Mike D'Antoni begged him -- is play relentless on-the-ball defense.
Robinson has given Jordan Farmar fits in this series. He has hounded the ball up the floor, which is just enough to disrupt the Lakers from getting into their offense sooner. Nate would do this once in a while with the Knicks, but then he'd make a shot and backpedal so he could wave his arms to the crowd when he should have stepped up and tried to dog the inbounds and create more momentum with a steal.
Let's also not overlook that Robinson is now playing for his future. After leaving New York, his reputation as a showboat player who was more of a novelty act than an effective player was at its height. But in this environment, Nate is showing the league he can be a contributing member on a winning team.
What he should be is like Derek Fisher, the gritty veteran for the Lakers who can knock down perimeter shots, battle through screens and beat you with hustle. Fisher is the prototype guard to play next to a ball-dominant superstar such as Kobe Bryant or LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.
And that's what The Goodwins, Nate's representation, should promote this summer when he's a free agent. Could Robinson fit in Miami next to Wade, especially if Wade accomplishes his goal of recruiting at least one other star (Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh or Amar'e Stoudemire) to join him in South Beach?
But perhaps the proof of this Finals run is that less is, indeed, more when it comes to Nate. He has found his ideal role and, perhaps, his ideal home.