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Nate a season saver for Bulls

Nate Robinson is a lot of things, but well-behaved isn't one of them.

And that's what made a behind-the-curtain scene with his son so adorable.

As Robinson prepared to meet the media after his playoff "podium game" against the Brooklyn Nets on April 27, his oldest son Nahmier, who slept in the stands during his daddy's games at Washington, said he wanted to accompany him to the dais after his biggest game as a professional.

"You have to be good," the father of three said sternly.

Nahmier nodded and put on his dad's Bulls jersey.

Some would joke it was an authentic jersey, even though little Nahmier is just 8 years old. Because that's what we do with Nate Robinson. We call him short and we call him goofy, and he's happy to play along, as long as he gets to play. And when he does play, we often laugh and shake our head with wonder.

"[Nate] is one tough little man," Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said on ESPN Chicago 1000's "Carmen & Jurko Show" on Tuesday. "He has no fear at all, and I think you have to respect that."

Robinson, who turns 29 this month, has been a season saver for the Chicago Bulls, who find themselves up 1-0 on the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals thanks to his scoring ability.

Robinson is a classic NBA character, a former football player with dueling Napoleon and Peter Pan complexes. He is a technical foul and a one-man comeback waiting to happen and, one would think, the last person sideline emperor Tom Thibodeau would want running the point.

But Thibodeau is more flexible than people realize when it comes to understanding NBA players, and he knew that with Derrick Rose out, as it turned out for the season, and the Bulls unable to afford a shot creator, Robinson was the perfect fit at a low, low price.

Signed to a one-year veteran's minimum deal that wasn't guaranteed until January, Robinson has had the season of his life. He played all 82 games (only Jimmy Butler also played in every game, averaging 13.1 points and 4.4 assists in 25.4 minutes per game.

Robinson has been even better in the postseason, averaging 17 points on 50 percent shooting. He scored 34 points in 29 minutes in his aforementioned podium game against the Nets, a 142-134 triple-overtime thriller. Twenty-three of those points came in the fourth quarter as he almost single-handedly led the Bulls from a 14-point deficit with less than three minutes to play. He also hit a crazy 23-foot runner that nearly won the game in the first overtime.

A week later, Robinson went off again. After getting 10 stitches above his lip thanks to a second-quarter collision with LeBron James, Robinson led the Bulls with 27 points in their much-applauded upset win over the Heat on Monday night.

The Bulls trailed 86-83 with two minutes left. Robinson assisted on Marco Belinelli's game-tying 3-pointer and scored the last seven points as the Bulls won 93-86.

Another late finish, another podium game.

"I've played on some tough teams, but this one is a little different," Robinson said at the podium. "There's something special about this group. For me, it feels like we've been playing together 10 years."

For those just tuning in, Robinson has done this all season, and the Bulls have needed every point in the absence of Rose. Known for his celebratory airplane gestures after big shots, Robinson has been the United Center's Frequent Flier.

In the last two months of the Bulls' injury-ravaged season, Robinson averaged more than 16 points per game while shooting more than 42 percent on 3-pointers and playing nearly 30 minutes a game.

"He's about as confident as they come, and that's the thing that makes him good," Thibodeau told reporters after the Heat game. "If he misses a shot, he has a very short memory. He always thinks he's hot, never afraid, and will step up in a big situation. He has the courage to take and make."

While he doesn't dunk much anymore and often takes wild shots -- he shot 43.3 percent this season, according to NBA.com's shot charts -- Robinson is shooting above the league average on 3-pointers from the top of the key to the right corner, and hitting 40.5 percent overall.

That is why Thibodeau puts up with the unnecessary pull-up 3-pointers on the break and the nonstop chatter.

When the Knicks acquired him in a draft-day trade, they loved his football background and his physicality.

Jeff Nix, the director of scouting for the Knicks in 2005, said Robinson's innate gifts were more important than size coming out of college.

"Whether he's 5-1 or 7-1, he has that type of toughness very few guys have," Nix said in a phone conversation Tuesday. "I don't think it's just his size. He's wired to have extreme toughness. He's just a dynamic, energizing type of player."

When Robinson joined a dysfunctional Knicks organization, he was too hyper, too undisciplined. When he came to Boston for the 2009-10 season, where he crossed paths with then-assistant coach Thibodeau, Robinson learned how to win in the NBA.

"Seeing our habits on and off the court, he's understanding it's the better routine," Paul Pierce told reporters during the 2010 NBA Finals. "When you get around a certain team and there's no discipline, you tend to go off on your own and do whatever you want. It's a lot different here. We're a championship team on and off the court. He's seeing it and learning from it."

When the Bulls were interested in Robinson, Paxson called Nix, a longtime friend now coaching at Wake Forest, to get his opinion on the move. Nix coached with Thibodeau under Jeff Van Gundy and could tell Paxson whether the two could co-exist. Nix, who isn't even sure Robinson remembers him, was for the move. He knew Thibodeau would love his energy level and toughness, if not always his shot selection.

When Thibodeau called Robinson, he didn't need to sell the one-year offer.

"He called me and asked me how I felt about coming and joining the Bulls, and I was like, 'Where do I sign up?'" Robinson said in October.

The decision has worked out brilliantly for both sides. During the course of a season when the focus was often on Rose's absence, Robinson provided leads and levity. He's been a reporter's dream, musing about playing with "Peter Pan thoughts" and comparing himself to an "NBA Jam" player.

After the season opener, Richard Hamilton, Robinson's friend and Twitter jousting partner, told everyone that Robinson was the best-dressed person on the team because he fit every size. Robinson agreed, saying you save money that way.

"I'll go Baby Gap on you [fools]," Robinson replied then.

After the win over the Heat, Robinson said, "Teammates joke with me, and it gives me confidence to go out and play with energy. I love the energy and passion. This is probably the best season I've had with this group of guys."

It's a shame the end is likely near for Robinson's Bulls tenure. Rose will come back next season, and Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague will back him up. Robinson should command a solid multiyear contract, while the Bulls will be stuck looking for someone to play for the minimum.

Robinson's teammates will surely talk about him forever, but with him on his game, this season isn't over yet.

"Nate's the backbone of this team's body," Butler told reporters in Miami on Tuesday. "Nate holds us together."

When asked what it's like to watch him play, Butler said, "Super fun, and it's even more fun being out there with him."

Nix doesn't get to watch too much NBA during the college season, but he's tuned into the Nate Show this postseason. He spent Monday night trading text messages with Paxson about Robinson's fortitude.

"He might not remember me but I'm proud of him," Nix said. "I'm happy he's starting to get his energy focused in the right direction."