There's no sense in dancing around the fact that Rasheed Wallace was a colossal disappointment throughout the regular season. You know it, I know it, and Rasheed probably knows it (not that it matters to him). But all the while, we were fed the lines about him coming alive in the postseason, so we waited with a sense of expectancy, only to watch as the first round of the playoffs came and went, with Rasheed posting just 3.8 points on 40 percent shooting, to go along with 1.6 rebounds. Not exactly what we had in mind.
Despite a lackluster style of play that looked as though it would come to define Wallace throughout the remainder of the postseason, I still wrote the following in my second round playoff prediction:
Paul Pierce will be the hero at some point, and - I'm going to say it - Rasheed Wallace will make a positive impact on this series.
I promise you I wasn't just blowing smoke. I wasn't trying to be the guy who says outrageous things just for the sake of saying them. I honestly believed heading into the second round that Rasheed would have a hand in an upset of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Why, you might ask? Well, through it all, it couldn't really be denied that 'Sheed still had a respectable amount of talent left inside of him, and as long as the chance existed that he would see the court, the chance existed that he would actually perform well. I also had a difficult time believing he couldn't not compete in this series. Both as a competitor, and quite frankly, as a person, how can you just sit there, in the midst of your team's most important playoff series in the past two seasons and do next to nothing, especially when you have the talent to not only make an impact, but to potentially swing the series in your team's favor?
Trust me, I know how frustrating it's been watching this guy play all season. And a 1-5 performance in Game 1 didn't do much to appease our frustrations. In the 48 hours leading up to tipoff last night, I must have had at least six different conversations with friends and family about Rasheed, in which phrases like "utterly useless", "simply awful", "incredibly frustrating", and "extremely lazy" were spoken multiple times. But, despite it all, I just found it very difficult to believe his uninspiring style of basketball would continue all the way through this series. It was just too important.
So last night's game begins to unfold and Rasheed starts things off with a short baseline jumper on the right side with 2:45 left in the first frame. A minute later he fires up a three-pointer and buries it, putting Boston up 21-17. He gave Boston a seven point lead (29-22) 32 seconds into the second frame on his second-three pointer, and then, at the 10:39 mark, drove from the left side of the lane and put up a short, running hook shot. I know, I can't believe I just typed that sentence, either. Rasheed actually exhibited effort to score the ball. Crazy stuff, right? Well, it happened, and it gave the Celtics a 35-22 lead. After a quick, frustrating 6-0 spurt from the Cavs, it was 'Sheed himself who put the Celtics back up double-digits, 38-28, with 8:26 to play on his third three-pointer. His 13 first-half points on 5-5 shooting (3-3 from the nation) were critical, as a series of fouls and turnovers hindered Boston's play for the remainder of the quarter, and allowed the Cavs to get within four, 52-48, at halftime. Given the sloppy end to the half, without Rasheed's play, the Celtics could have been facing a considerable deficit, which would have affected their third quarter outburst.
It's incredible how different the game goes when Rasheed's actually contributing. Having that extra option off the bench capable of doing legitimate damage completely alters the play of the second unit. His contributions take so much pressure off of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett (the primary options), as the C's really can't afford any lapses against the Cavaliers. Cleveland's a team you always need to be producing against, and the responsibility has fallen almost exclusively upon Rondo, Allen, Pierce, and KG, meaning Rasheed's contributions remove the constant burden that has been appropriately placed upon those four. It's difficult imagining them not being grateful as they watched from the bench last night, knowing the team wasn't suffering amidst their absence.
Does one 17-point performance make amends for an entire season? Absolutely not. Can we count on Rasheed moving forward? Absolutely not. He's still as unpredictable as ever, and will most likely revert back to his lazy habits at some point in the near future. But we cannot help but sit here and say that last night, in what was an incredibly important playoff game, Rasheed Wallace was one of the main reasons why the game was won.