Boston Celtics center Shavlik Randolph got hit in the face so hard last month in Memphis that the slightest touch restarts what amounts to a two-week nosebleed. During the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over the Washington Wizards, after the latest thump aggravated the familiar red trickle, Randolph sat on the Boston bench with two wads of cotton jammed up his nostrils and a huge grin.
This, odd as it might sound, was all he ever wanted.
Helping the Celtics top the Wizards on Sunday allowed Randolph to reflect on his journey to this point. After a two-year NBA absence, Randolph tried to fight his way back into the league with Washington at the start of the 2012-13 season, but was among the team's final training camp cuts.
That probably stung more than any of the recent bops he's endured. A team that needed a six-game winning streak to close out a 20-win campaign last year desired to keep the likes of Earl Barron over Randolph.
But, as Randolph said on Sunday, "Everything happens for a reason."
The 29-year-old Randolph admits he didn't do enough to make the Wizards' roster, but he used being cut as motivation to fuel his game in China with the goal of getting another NBA opportunity.
Now he's the first big off the bench for playoff-bound Boston, a key cog in the Celtics' desire to make another charge at an NBA title.
So after chipping in eight points and seven rebounds over 15:27 during Sunday's win, Randolph heaped praise on what his time in Washington meant to him.
"I value the experience that I got," said Randolph. "I got some good minutes in the preseason games, NBA experience. It really helped me when I got here because, before that, the last experience I had was in Miami [during the 2009-10 season]."
Added Randolph: "Just playing and being back in the NBA, even in the preseason, helped me with that familiarity. I don't think it's anything I did wrong, I just think the personnel, the people I was playing against, outplayed me. I used it as motivation. I went over to China, busted my butt every day, and tried to work on the things I didn't do great when I was there."
In 12 appearances for Boston, Randolph is averaging five points (while shooting 61 percent from the floor) and 4.7 rebounds (while grabbing an eye-popping 26.2 percent of available defensive rebounds) over 13.1 minutes per game. Since joining the team, the Celtics are plus-16 when he's on the floor and minus-29 when Randolph is not.
Randolph's ascension has been truly remarkable, as he essentially has vaulted to Boston's top reserve big through nothing but hustle and determination. He even seems to be pushing fellow big man Chris Wilcox, and the two paired up for big-time production off the bench on Sunday.
Randolph's efforts have not been lost on the most discerning of observers, including Kevin Garnett.
"Shav is playing unbelievable basketball," said Garnett. "I think he's finding his little niche in here. And that's what we're going to need."
It's the sheer efficiency that's remarkable with Randolph, who is making the most of short minutes. According to Synergy Sports data, Randolph is averaging 1.053 points per play (60 points on 57 possessions), feasting on offensive rebounds and roll situations. That ranks him in the 94th percentile among all league players.
Defensively, he's come back to Earth after a fast start. Randolph is allowing 0.899 points per play (62 points on 69 possessions), but opponents are still shooting just 38.5 percent against him (fouls have simply hurt his post defense).
But the Celtics can live with him learning their help defense on the fly because his rebounding at both ends of the floor makes the second unit so much better. What's more, the Celtics can play Randolph without needing Garnett on the floor to mask rebounding and defensive deficiencies.
"I think I've got a little rhythm with that second group and knowing just what my role is going to be when I go out there," said Randolph. "It's very simple. I know, especially with Kevin back, I'm not going to be playing extended minutes. So when I go out there, it's going to be for short periods of time and I've got to go out there and play with energy, rebound, play off people. If I can get some put-backs or finishes around the rim, then that's good. But mostly just rebound and play with a lot of energy for the time that I'm in there to try to give Kevin the most opportunities to rest as he can."
Randolph, once cut in camp by a lottery team, is in line to be an honest-to-goodness rotation player on a playoff-bound team. That and his easygoing demeanor allow him to roll with the punches.
Including the ones thrown by his coach, who playfully compared him to boxer Jerry Quarry, who was on the wrong side of two beatings by Muhammad Ali. Doc Rivers jokes that Randolph "leads with his face."
For his part, Randolph chuckled (though he said the better boxing comparison would be someone like Rocky Balboa). He joked that being compared to Quarry was "an unbelievable compliment." And journeymen take compliments wherever they can get them.
Randolph knows how to make the best out of a tough situation. Just like he did when the Wizards cut him.
"I know when I deserve something, I know when I've earned something, and I know when I have that. I didn't earn that right [in Washington]," said Randolph. "And I took it, it was motivation, I went out and tried to take the things I knew I could have done better when I was in D.C., and worked on them in China. And it's paid off for me."
Even if his nose won't stop bleeding.
Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com.