Prior to the season, I begged the question: Why don't Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace play in the paint more often? I then spent a considerable amount of time chronicling the rather atrocious shooting slump Wallace suffered through at the start of the season. Playing down low clearly was not 'Sheed's personal preference, but after watching miss and after miss after miss from three-point nation, the paint looked more and more like a five-star resort where 'Sheed could vacation for a while in order to get his game back on track.
Alas, even in the midst of some truly horrendous shooting numbers Wallace was persistent about launching them from deep and throughout the team's early season struggles, he became something of a scapegoat. But, the Celtics worked their way out of their funk, hit the road and began piling up the wins. The sky was no longer falling, we were taking our hands off the panic button and that sense of inescapable dread had morphed into insurmountable confidence.
Throughout this revitalizing 11-game win streak, the C's have secured some steep performances from a variety of players not belonging to the very exclusive "Big Three" club. Sure, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have been tremendous over this stretch, but so has Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, and now, joining that list over the past two games, is Rasheed Wallace, whose play in the paint has opened my eyes and introduced a whole new weapon for this Celtics team to utilize.
In a word, 'Sheed's performance down low last night was flat out dominant. He tore the Grizzlies apart in the second quarter, which actually was vital to the Celtics, considering they left their defense in Chicago and it failed to catch the red eye to meet them in Memphis. Without Wallace finishing the half with 10 points on 5-10 shooting, the Celtics might have faced a hefty deficit heading into the break. The annual game in Memphis might have been something of a breeze the past few seasons, but we all know after watching that young group last night that they're as legitimate as any team that young can be. Heck, they might even be capable of challenging Oklahoma City for the title of Best Young Team in the NBA right now.
But that potential status made Wallace's work down low that much more important. And what work it was. When he applies himself down there, 'Sheed possesses some of the best low post moves this league has to offer. Take, for example, the short bank shot off the block with 7:56 left in the second. Sure, it was partially blocked by Hasheem Thabeet, but credit Wallace for sticking with the Memphis bigs, digging his nose in, collecting the blocked shot and putting it back in.
Then there was the crisp drop step on the left block around Zach Randolph 40 seconds later, which brought Boston to within a point, 40-39. Fortunately it didn't stop there, as a minute later he was back down low, with a wide base, fending off the still beefy Randolph, receiving hand high in the air, demanding the ball down on the block again. He was rewarded with an over the top pass, which he converted for another layup, making it 42-41 Memphis.
After that, with Marc Gasol now on him, 'Sheed resorted to a somewhat difficult low post jump shot, which he made look very, very easy. By then, I was ecstatic watching this happen. Again, 'Sheed was dominant, plain and simple. He capped off the second frame with his semi-patented low post fade away jumper from about seven feet, which he calmly knocked down with 2:06 left, making it 50-49 Grizzlies. Granted, Randolph isn't the league's most prestigious interior defender, but don't let that fact discredit the effort Wallace put up last night.
Making all of this even better was the fact that 'Sheed's presence down low actually impacted his teammates in a positive manner as well. With 10:41 left in the second, Pierce tossed the ball down low to a posting Wallace, who took the ball, waited for Pierce to cut towards the hoop, fed him a simple handoff and simultaneously acted as screen and watched as Pierce drew a foul and converted down two free throws.
Eddie House also benefited from a Wallace screen inside the arc, with 9:32 left, which freed him for an open jump shot, which he knocked down. These are simple plays from Wallace, but they wouldn't have happened had be been parked outside the three-point arc.
This isn't to say I want 'Sheed to abandon the three-ball entirely. In fact, his lone three-pointer last night came with nine minutes left in the fourth and it gave Boston a 92-87 lead - its largest at the time. But with Wallace, the word that comes to mind is balance. Some of us became irate when his game was strictly made up of threes, yet if he confined himself to the post for the entire game, that would somewhat defeat one of the primary purposes of us bringing him here, since his versatility and ability to stretch the defense are two of his best assets. But taking his low post game and his three-point game and creating some sort of hybrid of the two would work wonders for this team.
By routinely switching up his offensive position he forces the defense to continually adjust and in some ways that keeps the defense guessing. Imagine being a big guy guarding 'Sheed and half the time you feel like you're in your natural defensive element down low and then half the time you're plodding around the perimeter, while also having to keep an eye out for other slashers in case the defensive scheme calls for you to help.
The benefits of 'Sheed playing down low in conjunction with shooting a consistent number of threes far outweigh the hindrances in my eyes. He gives himself more opportunities to score, he opens things up for other teammates and he keeps the defensive on its toes. He can stretch the defense when the situation calls for it, or score at will down low when the team needs that offensive boost. 'Sheed's put that formula together quite nicely over the past two games. Let's see if that formula becomes a consistent part of the Celtics' offensive attack from here on out.