March 28, 2002
A gang of big, bad board bullies from the West side that calls itself the Warriors has been beating up the smaller, weaker boys around the NBA all season. Their leader is Danny Fortson, who, as you may have heard, used to run with the Celtics. He is 6 feet 8 inches and 260 pounds, and most of the time he rolls through the lane with a posse that includes a 6-11, 265-pound guy named Erick Dampier and a 6-10, 265-pound man named Adonal Foyle. And when they need it, the beefy trio gets help from Antawn Jamison (6-9) and Troy Murphy (6-11). Together, the Warriors have made the painted area in every arena their 'hood - they average a league-high 46.8 rebounds, led by Fortson's 11.9 (third in the league).
Last night, the Warriors asked the Celtics to come out and play at the FleetCenter. Tony Battie knew he and his crew, not exactly known for their inside work, were in for a brawl with the team that whipped them, 92-75, and outrebounded them by 10 Feb. 13.
"We knew that they were just big," said Battie, Boston's slender, 6-11 man in the middle, who gives up at least 20 pounds to Dampier, Fortson, and Foyle. "Then you've got athletic guys like Jamison and Jason Richardson. So not only do you have to play a strong guy, but you've got to be looking over your shoulder to make sure Richardson's not coming to dunk on you."
The Warriors may have the West side's worst record (18-53), but they went toe to toe for 48 minutes with the likely playoff-bound Celtics from the Eastern Conference. Golden State got the better of Boston on the glass, 56-41. But Boston emerged with its rep as a contender intact thanks, to a 102-99 win that would not have been had it not been for Battie's 12 points (10 in the second half and 6 big ones in crunch time) and 9 rebounds (3 offensive).
"Tony most nights is overmatched," said Paul Pierce, who grabbed a team-best 10 rebounds and scored a game-high 33 points, including the game's final 4. "He's thin, for one. I can post him up. He's really not a center; he's really a power forward with his size. But we ask him to do big things for us."
Sometimes it's the small guys who give the big boys the most headaches. Ask Fortson, Battie's teammate for the 1999-2000 season. "He's quick off his feet and he has long arms, so he can tap that ball around," said Fortson, who scored 20 points and matched Dampier with 13 boards. "And he flies around a lot. He's one of those players you hate to try and box out."
Battie's tap dance was responsible for several offensive rebounds in the first half, which the Warriors ended with a flurry to take a surprising 45-37 lead. Battie's only bucket of the half was a two-handed jam off a feed from Pierce (the game's second basket). But the thinnest man on the floor pulled his weight in the second half.
Antoine Walker threw a no-look pass to Battie for another dunk in the third that tied it at 46. Moments later, Battie swished a 16-footer to tie it at 50.
Battie didn't score again until 3:15 remained, when Walker missed in close, and Battie cleaned up the mess from the weak side. That made it 92-86, Boston, and made Celtics supporters more comfortable than they had been for most of the night. Battie was a key figure in the game's conclusion: He made a pair of free throws at the 2:10 mark, redirected Richardson's layup off the glass with 1:26 to go, then threw an inbounds pass right to Richardson three seconds later. He made up for it, though, with a jumper from near the foul line with a minute left that put the Celtics ahead, 98-91.
"[The shot] just felt comfortable," said Battie, whose last rebound gave him 410 this season, tying a career high. "I think guys were anticipating me kicking it over to Antoine - Antoine was calling for the ball - and I saw the defense kind of shading his side, so I decided to take the shot."
Battie then watched from the bench as Pierce's basket with 10 seconds left stopped an 8-0 Golden State run and kept the Celtics from losing one they shouldn't. He sat in the training room as the media spoke to the cocaptains and nightly heroes. After the locker room had cleared, Battie emerged carrying a case about as big as Fortson. In it was a boot that sends electric stimulation to the area behind Battie's right knee, which is swollen because of a tear in his calf. He said he planned to undergo two hours of treatment last night before going to bed.
For a (relatively) little guy, it takes a lot to survive in a big man's world.
"I'm going to be outweighed the majority of the time," Battie concurred. "I just try to use my quickness and not let those big, strong guys get their body on me. But at the same time, I'm not afraid to throw my body in there and bang with them a little bit."