In a locker room full of unproven youngsters and mediocre veteran players who appear content to endure a year of tanking, Gerald Wallace stands out like a sore thumb. He's too competitive to accept losing, and he demands a higher level of effort from his Celtics teammates every night.
It makes you wonder how he fits into the Celtics' plans moving forward. What does his presence do for this team this week? This year? Between now and the end of his albatross contract in 2016?
It's not entirely clear. And the picture became even more muddled tonight, as coach Brad Stevens abruptly jerked Wallace from the starting lineup in favor of erratic youngster Jordan Crawford.
Yet it kinda, sorta worked for the Celtics tonight, as Crawford played a respectable game on both ends of the floor and Wallace came off the bench with a bang, dropping nine points and nine rebounds to give the C's exactly the boost they needed to earn the season's first win. Thanks to a dazzling 27-8 effort in the second quarter, Boston cruised to victory over visiting Utah, 97-87, to improve to 1-4.
"True professional," said Jeff Green, who slid into Wallace's role of starting small forward. "He still came to work, and the minutes he played were big. The defense that he played, the energy that he gave us - he was the reason that we got the lead that we got. For him to be told this morning that he wasn't going to start, then come out and play the way he did, that's just true professionalism. We've got to try to feed off of what he does, because he shows a lot of heart when he plays."
In 747 career games, Wallace has seldom come off the bench. It hasn't been his regular role in almost a decade - not since the Sacramento years, when he played backup to a legitimate MVP candidate in Peja Stojakovic, has Wallace been a bench guy. But when Stevens came to him this morning and announced the move, Wallace accepted it without any ill will.
"I wouldn't say not happy," Wallace said. "Just kind of confused. It was the first time I'd come off the bench since I was traded to Portland and came off the bench two or three games for them. This was a similar experience for me. We're still trying to figure out as a team something different, but hey - it worked, so maybe it's something we can go with."
Indeed it did. And this isn't just about Wallace - it's bigger than that. On the whole, the Celtics are still working to come up with combinations that make sense for them. They've got a new coach, a revamped roster and a whole lot of young guys still working to demonstrate their skills, and it might take a while for them to figure out what works.
Tonight, Stevens tapped into something. He's mentioned before that he likes the combination of Wallace with Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, and against the Jazz, he brought all three of them off the bench. Once that trio took over for Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Vitor Faverani, it was game on for the new-look Celtics.
"I thought that the Sully-Kelly combo, with their ability to pass and stretch the floor, would open up some driving lanes for [Wallace] and some plays for him," Stevens explained. "Those three guys complement each other really well, so I kind of made up my mind last night that I would bring Gerald off the bench, then went from there.
"The best teams that I've been a part of have had sparks off the bench. The energy level has actually gone up, or at least stayed the same, and I think that's what happened tonight."
The Celtics may only be 1-4, but it's a triumphant 1-4. Tonight was a win for Wallace, who set aside his ego and contributed nicely. It was a win for the Celtics' bench as a whole, which improved by leaps and bounds in terms of chemistry and cohesion. And oh, by the way - it was a win for Stevens, the first of his nascent NBA coaching career.
"I'm happy for him," Green said. "I'm sure it's a load off of his shoulders to get this one win. Now let's try to get him two."
That's the Celtics' mindset right now. One win is nice, but only if it helps them build toward more.
"I'm going to celebrate for a whole 12 minutes," Stevens said. "Then I'm going to start watching Orlando."
The Celtics play the Magic on Friday night, and the Celtics will look to figure a few more things out on the fly. They'll also aim to get that second win.
More from CelticsBlog:
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- It "Takes Five," but the Boston Celtics get a win, silence the Utah Jazz, 97-87
- Brad Stevens, Gordon Hayward Go Head To Head As Celtics Face Jazz
- Discussing Gordon Hayward, Rajon Rondo, and more with Jazz blogger
- Gerald Wallace giving 110% to get traded