MIAMI— Tiny, 5-foot-7—don’t believe the listed height—Nate Robinson was crushed by a freight train and lived to tell about it.
In the second quarter of the Bulls’ Game 1 Eastern Conference semifinals win over the Heat, the diminutive scoring point guard and league MVP LeBron James both went diving for a loose ball and while Robinson beat the Miami superstar to the ball, he was crushed and suffered an upper lip laceration.
Robinson didn’t return to the game until after halftime, but when he did, he was spectacular, scoring 24 of his game-high 27 points after the intermission, including a stretch to close the game in which he was unstoppable.
“He's got the heart of a lion,” teammate Joakim Noah said. “Being that small, and doing the things that he does, he gives us a lot of confidence. “He's a hell of a scorer. He can really put the ball in the hole.”
But seeing him with a split lip after the game—he received 10 stitches, five on the inside and five on the outside—Robinson’s injury was almost more of a story than his performance.
“It was just a hustle play that went wrong, but you’ve got to play through it. Got 10 stitches, but you’ve just got to continue to fight,” Robinson said. “You’ve got to muster up enough energy and enough fight to go in there and continue to play as hard as you can and produce for your teammates. They expect you to get stitched up and come back out there continue to battle, and that’s what I did.”
“These guys just keep teasing me, man. Marquis Teague, every timeout, he’s looking at me, laughing, and I’m trying not to laugh and I’ve got this ice on. When it happened, I went back straight to the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and I was like, ‘Wow.’ I couldn’t believe it, but for me, I just play through it all. I really love this game for what it is. My teammates, they joke with me, they push me to give me confidence to continue to play the game that I love with energy and passion, man, and this has been probably the best season I’ve had with these group of guys. It’s been unbelievable, man. God is good. He’s been blessing me so much and I’m just thankful, man, to be on this team,” he continued.
“[The Bulls’ medical staff] numbed it. That’s the worst part. That’s the worst part, but I told Doc, ‘Just hurry up.’ I’m not trying to rush him, but I wanted to get back out there. I think it was tied up at the half when I was getting my stitches and Coach just said, ‘Be ready and come out when you’re ready,’ and I just told him, ‘I’m ready now,’ so he put me back out there and we got the job done.”
Robinson expounded on his love for his Bulls teammates, who have helped him have his best professional season yet.
“Never. Never,” he repeated when asked if he’s ever played on a team as tough as the Bulls. “And I’ve played on some tough teams, but this one, this is a little different. It’s something special about this group. I don’t know what it is, but for me, it just feels like we’ve been playing together for like 10 years and like I told coach, ‘We just love to play for each other, regardless of anything.’
“I know a couple times in the game, me and Jimmy had a couple miscommunications, and he told me that, ‘Make sure you switch or you go under,’ and just little things like that, you make adjustments during the course of a game. And we don’t need our coach to tell us that, and that’s somebody younger than me telling me that, and he’s helping me out,” the instant-offense scorer went on to say. “And that just goes down the line for each guy on the team, and it just makes it easier to play with these guys like that. It’s just fun.”