While watching the Celtics knock off the Bulls on Saturday night, one point became crystal clear about this team from Hicag: Ben Wallace isn't done. Not by a long shot.
The hobbled Ben Wallace who looked over the hill at the beginning of the season? Gone. The Ben Wallace who averaged just 4.8 boards and 1.17 blocks per game over the season's first six games? Nowhere to be found.
In his place was a man who appeared quickly on his way to becoming the defensive force that once gave his teams such a huge advantage on a night-in, night-out basis.
As is the case with any solid interior defender, the box score can't do enough to quantify the impact Wallace had. The two blocked shots (one of which was, much as it is hard to admit, an absolute beauty of a sweet on Rondo) don't indicate how many shots Wallace altered with his long arms and perhaps even more significantly, how many were never taken because of his mere presence in the paint. Because that is what he was once more: a presence, and a big one at that. Wallace cleaned the glass with abandon (14 boards) and did everything in his power to force the Celtics to get their points from outside the paint.
Yes, Kevin Garnett wound up going off late in the game and finishing with 8-of-11 shooting, but Wallace kept him at bay for much of the first three quarters and forced KG to get most of his points off of turnarounds and fadeaways from the wings and elbows. As Celtics fans have had the pleasure of learning this season, the man is one of the most incredible individuals in the league. Forcing him to hit very tough shots isn't so much of a demerit to Wallace as the stat line might appear to say. Sometimes, one must simply tip his hat and applaud the efforts of the opponent.
Further, this is not to say that Big Ben is back in his prime form. Right now, he certainly isn't the pivotal interior force that he was for those years in Detroit. But his play of late has shown that those days aren't necessarily done for good, and they might be a lot closer to reapproaching than many skeptics think. While not all-telling, the numbers don't hurt either. In his last 12 games, Wallace has gone for double-digit rebounds eight times, averaging 11.2 per game over that span. He is also up to 1.8 blocks per game in that stretch (and 2.4 per over five December games) with six multi-block games. The altered and discouraged shot count is only rising as well.
He is still as inept as ever offensively, and he has a way to go before he is back playing at his standards defensively, but Ben Wallace is on the way back. In the long run, that could mean everything to the Bulls.