Jerry Quarry was a top heavyweight contender in the 1960s and ’70s who routinely got his face rearranged by some of boxing’s finest — Ali, Frazier, Patterson.
The undersized but rugged Californian had a tough left hook, strong chin, and never backed down, but he cut easily, his mug often looking like a fresh crime scene by the late rounds.
And it is this former boxer, who was known as Irish Jerry and posted a pro record of 53-9-4, that Celtics coach Doc Rivers felt was an apt comparison for forward Shavlik Randolph.
“He leads with his face, like Jerry Quarry,” Rivers said Sunday after the Celtics knocked out the Washington Wizards, 107-96, at TD Garden.
Said a bewildered Randolph, who was told of Quarry’s two famous bouts with Muhammad Ali in which leading with his face didn’t pan out so well, “That’s an unbelievable compliment.”
Near the end of the Celtics victory, in which he recorded 8 points and had 7 rebounds in 15 gritty minutes, Randolph sat on the bench with both nostrils stuffed with what looked like tissue to quell another of his nosebleeds, an almost nightly occurrence.
“I feel like I’m a boxer or something,” Randolph said. “I’m getting hit, like, every game. I got hit so hard in the Memphis Grizzlies game a few weeks back. Since then, every time it gets hit, it starts bleeding. I feel like Rocky Balboa or something.”
Randolph plays a bruising game, throwing around his 6-foot-10-inch, 236-pound frame beneath the rim, banging into bodies, jockeying for position. He absorbs blows, such as a flagrant foul from John Wall, who hammered Randolph on a fast break.
“He’s just rugged,” Rivers said.
But, as he has done more and more recently, Randolph got the crowd in a stir by stringing together several hustle plays shortly after checking in.
He entered the game with 7:30 left in the first quarter to give Kevin Garnett a breather. A minute and a half later, he grabbed a defensive rebound. He added a dunk, grabbed two more rebounds, then scored a layup while being fouled, making the free throw.
The Celtics scored 8 consecutive points once he checked in during the tide-turning third quarter, and overall they outscored the Wizards by 10 when Randolph was on the floor.
Moreover, Rivers made Randolph, not Chris Wilcox, his first big man off the bench to substitute for Garnett.
“Shav is playing unbelievable basketball,” said Garnett. “I think he’s finding his little niche in here.”
In his last six games, Randolph is averaging 7.2 points on 74 percent shooting (17 of 23) and 5.5 rebounds in 16 minutes per game.
In the six games he played before that, Randolph was averaging 2.8 points on 44 percent shooting (8 of 18) and 3.8 rebounds in 9.8 minutes.
“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,” Randolph said. “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.”
But Sunday night was special for Randolph for another reason: He was facing the team that cut him in the final week of training camp, choosing since-cut center Earl Barron over him.
“I know that I got outplayed for that spot — I’m the first to admit that and be a man,” Randolph said. “I know when I deserve something. I know when I earned something, and I didn’t earn that right.
“I took it as motivation and went out and tried to take the things that I could’ve done better in D.C. and I worked on them in China and it’s paid off for me.”
After being cut by the Wizards, Randolph went overseas, where he was last playing for the Foshan Long Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association. In China, Randolph said, he put on more muscle and improved his overall game.
“There’s no substitution for actually playing games, whether it is in China,” he said. “Obviously the competition is different, but it’s still a game.”
The Celtics, in need of bodies after injuries ravaged their roster, signed him to a 10-day contract, then another, then to a multiyear deal, and now he has become a key cog for a team that’s trying to lighten the load on the 36-year-old Garnett.
“If I can get some putbacks or finishes around the rim, then that’s good,” Randolph said. “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.”
That plan is fine by the the Celtics, who by the day are becoming more pleased that Randolph is in their corner.