The commencement of the 2009-2010 season for these Celtics brought with it a slew of challenging matchups for Rajon Rondo. Roughly a month into the season, Rondo's already battled Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Derron Williams and Steve Nash - four of the NBA's elite.
But lately the matchups that have been raising eyebrows have involved Paul Pierce, as over the past handful of games Pierce (as well as Ray Allen to an extent) has gone up against the likes of Al Harrington, Andre Iguodala, Hedo Turkoglu and Dwyane Wade. Pierce and the Celtics managed to prevail against all of these opponents, but the matchups won't get any easier any time soon, particularly tonight when Pierce goes head-to-head with the Charlotte Bobcats' Gerald Wallace.
Both the Celtics and Bobcats enter tonight's contest on four-game winning streaks, largely due to the stellar play of Pierce and Wallace. For Boston, this four-game stretch is a hopeful sign that this team is finally on the right track and for the Bobcats, its winning streak is just the next small step in the progression of an entire franchise. The Bobcats have given the Celtics trouble these past few seasons (this could be credited to Celtic-slayer Jason Richardson calling Charlotte home two of the past three years) and it's looking more and more likely that Wallace will be looking to keep that trend going tonight.
The numbers for the pair of players over the past four games have been impressive:
Pierce: 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 30-55 shooting (54.5 percent), 6.5 free throws per game (Everyone has noticed how Pierce has changed his free throw form, right?)
Wallace: 21.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 28-55 shooting (50.9 percent), 8.0 free throws per game
The best part of all of this is that both players are extremely effective one-on-one defenders, and with them going head-to-head in the midst of such impressive shooting numbers, it's going to be fun to see who gains the edge as the game goes on. Pierce's superior jump shot probably gives him an edge offensively, but Wallace certainly has the advantage on the boards (he's currently ranked fourth in rebounds in the entire NBA with an 11.8 rebounds per game mark).
Wallace dominated his matchup with Hedo Turkoglu last Wednesday, outscoring Hedo by a 31-5 mark and proved two nights later that his performance wasn't a fluke when he bested LeBron James in points (31-25), rebounds (14-6) and steals (3-0), as the Bobcats tackled the Cavaliers. Oh yes, Pierce will certainly have his hands full tonight.
I can't help but look at Wallace and think back to Pierce's earlier years in the league. The two have different types of games, but Wallace is the classic case of a budding star on a losing team who might not always receive the necessary credit (sound familiar?). And when the superstars of the league walk into Charlotte or welcome the Bobcats into their own arena, Wallace is giving them everything he's got. And while he might make an impression on those individual players, he's not necessarily making an impression on the NBA's general fan base, which is a shame because he's turned into one of the league's more talented players. I'm sure he'll have our attention before the night is through.