As Rasheed Wallace chugged up and down the court in the first quarter of Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals for a Kendrick Perkins-less Boston Celtics squad, I couldn't help thinking to myself: "You know, Rasheed's the one guy I want filling in for Perk right now."
I suppose I found myself thinking that because, in a game like Game 7, with all the chips on the table, the Celtics needed someone to replace not only Perkins's customary production, but also his unique on-the-court attitude. After all, Kendrick Perkins is not just a man who rebounds, blocks shots, and drops in the occasional jump hook. He's a figurehead on this team - one who appears impervious to nervousness and the pressures of the moment, whose ever-present scowl states quite plainly that he will not be intimidated, no matter how many All-Star appearances or All-NBA First Team selections a specific opponent might boast on his resume (just ask Dwight Howard), or how important the game might be.
Which is why it was vital having someone like Wallace, who boasts a similar "I don't care how good you might be" attitude, take his spot. The Celtics couldn't afford to start someone who would have submitted to the overflowing pressures of a Game 7. And not only did he put forth the necessary demeanor, but submitted one of his finer performances of the season.The night started out on a promising note, as Wallace buried Boston's first two buckets - two nearly identical fading jump shots off of the left block that found the glass and then the net. After an arduous regular season filled with off-target three-pointers, Wallace playing in the post was like a prophet returning to the promised land after months of hopeful anticipation. Suddenly, memories of that regular season flashed back to me, particularly ones of the rare instances when Wallace actually played 15 feet and in, and I was soon shouting at my television: "They can't guard you down there!"
He finished what was an encouraging first half for the Celtics with six points and four rebounds, and added another bucket (another fading banker off the left block with 3:28 left over a truly helpless Lamar Odom) and four more rebounds in the third frame.Unfortunately, Wallace contributed just one basket in the fourth quarter, while failing to pull down any more rebounds. The basket he did convert was a crucial, fading three-pointer from the left wing with 1:23 remaining, which sliced a six-point Laker lead down to just three at 76-73. Ron Artest, however, nullified it with a backbreaking three-pointer of his own just 22 seconds later.
Whether it was the crippling leg cramps he suffered in the second half, or father time finally catching up with him, 'Sheed was unable to be more effective in the fourth, which is a shame, seeing as the Celtics probably could have used another one of those left box bank shots midway through the frame.The C's scored just three points from the 8:25 mark to the 3:45 mark of the fourth quarter, all of which came at the free throw line, courtesy of Ray Allen. The Lakers continued to roar back from a 13-point deficit and eventually took the lead back, and it grew increasingly frustrating watching the various Celtic jump shots thwarted by that vaunted Laker defense, which was simply smothering throughout the final quarter. Reflecting on it, one of Boston's best options down the stretch, when it was in desperate need of a bucket, might have been Wallace down on the block against either Odom or Pau Gasol. However, Wallace didn't shoot a single shot in the fourth until that three-pointer with 1:23 left. It appeared to be no fault of his own, as he was battling foul trouble at that point (He fouled out with 25 seconds remaining), and the Celtics were content looking to their main offensive guns in Paul Pierce and Allen, despite the fact that they were both struggling mightily from the field.
One of the criticisms of the Celtics in that final quarter was their steady reliance on the isolation plays for Pierce, despite the ineffectiveness of them on that specific night (compared to a night like that of Game 5). Perhaps they were just isolating the wrong player. Perhaps (and here comes your coulda, shoulda, woulda moment) Wallace was the better option for those isolation possessions, based on his body of work up until that point in the game.
Regardless of what Wallace did and did not do down the stretch, Thursday night was one night where his effort was not put into question. Did he trudge through the regular season? Absolutely. But did he make good on his promise of delivering when it mattered most? Absolutely. He earned the praise of Doc Rivers afterward, who referred to him as "a warrior", for the way he fought through his sudden second half maladies. There can be no doubt that Wallace wanted to win that game Thursday night, and after such a frustrating regular season defined by inconsistent effort, I suppose that's all we could have really asked for. If Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals was indeed Wallace's final game of his Celtic (and NBA) career, at least we weren't left feeling stung and bitter over a lack of effort on his part. It's just a shame that, given he finally provided what we were looking for all season, the end result was not in his and the Celtics' favor.