Asked earlier this season to handicap a fictional Boston Celtics intrasquad dunk contest, Evan Turner scanned Boston's locker room and admitted that the Celtics don't have any real high-flyers. Turning his attention to veteran Gerald Wallace, Turner added, "Every now and then, when Gerald is feeling great, he can get up."
Midway through the second quarter of Monday's potentially pivotal battle-for-the-eighth-seed tilt against the Charlotte Hornets, Wallace confirmed Turner's declaration. The Celtics broke out in transition after a steal near midcourt and Wallace got behind the defense before throwing his hand up to request an alley-oop feed. Avery Bradley obliged and Wallace delivered an emphatic two-handed jam over Marvin Williams.
The sequence ended with Wallace spinning on the rim with one hand as the crowd at Time Warner Cable Arena gasped while watching the 32-year-old hop in a time machine.
With the Celtics in Charlotte, where Wallace enjoyed the most memorable years of his NBA career, the 13th-year veteran quietly chipped in four points on 2-of-3 shooting with five rebounds, two steals and an assist over 15 minutes on Monday night. He was plus-10 in plus/minus and played some excellent defense, but it was his second-quarter jam that helped Boston push its lead as high as 22 before hanging on for a 116-104 triumph.
Sure, Bradley scored a game-high 30 points and Marcus Smart bounced back from some recent offensive struggles with a strong all-around effort (and was a team-best plus-15 overall). But Wallace's contributions should not be overlooked.
Wallace, a healthy DNP in eight of Boston's previous 11 games, got some rare early run and -- just as he's done all season -- provided solid minutes at a time Boston needed them. Wallace kept offensive rebounds alive, jumped passing lanes with smart help defense, and did all the little things that a part-time bench player needs to do when he gets a rare chance.
"I think, as a coach, you have to go with your gut on some things," Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Charlotte. "Gerald played [in Charlotte] for a long time and, last year when we were here and won, Gerald played great. I just felt like, I always know what kind of boost he is going to give us. We wanted to emphasize playing with a defensive mindset and it felt like this was a good night for him to come out and get us going.
"[Wallace] was great, defensively, in rotations, he was great on the bench; he was really engaged."
Wallace is one of the few players in the NBA with an absurd contract (he’s owed $10.1 million this season and next) who has so thoroughly won over the local fan base by embracing his role that few still complain about his price tag.
Stevens has gushed about Wallace accepting his diminished on-court role and how Wallace takes pride in being a veteran voice on a young team.
Stevens has routinely called on Wallace at random times this season and he's responded with quality minutes more often than not. During Monday's game, Wallace antagonized Gerald Henderson enough to get his former Charlotte teammate to commit a flagrant-1 foul with a frustration-filled forearm to Wallace's side.
"What you like about Gerald is, regardless if he plays a lot or plays none, he’s been the same," Stevens said earlier this month. "And so it’s been very consistent all year. He’s been very positive with our players all year. I can see the look on his face when one of our young guys does something -- he looks like a coach. He just looks mad and almost have to go down and say, ‘Hey, Gerald, don’t show your cards.’ But he’s been great to have around. And you need that. You need a guy that will go in there and say, ‘Hey, this is a big moment. I’ve been here before, I know what it’s like and we have to play a little bit better.’ It’s all been positive for him."
Might Wallace have a future in coaching?
"The best part about him, he’d be frank," Stevens said with a smile. "He’d be a frank coach. He’d tell them exactly what he thought. I think it was Pat Riley that said, "You have to continually define reality.' [Wallace would] be good at that."
A few leftover thoughts after the Celtics hung on to top the Hornets:
• Postseason chase: With Monday's win, the Celtics shuffled back into the eighth spot in the East standings. Boston is virtually tied with Brooklyn, but also owns the head-to-head tie-breaker after winning the season series. The Celtics are 1.5 games back of seventh-seeded Miami and .5 games up on the Indiana squad that visits TD Garden on Wednesday night.
• Double the fun: The Celtics improved to 9-1 on the second night of back-to-backs since Jan. 22-23. Boston is 4-6 in the front end of those consecutive games. Stevens joked recently that he’s going to start making his team engage in game-like situations before upcoming games to mimic the back-to-back feel.
• Bradley’s big night: Coming off a quiet night versus the Clippers, Bradley got himself back on track with 30 points on 12-of-23 shooting. The fifth-year guard added eight rebounds and two assists. Said Stevens: “I thought Avery was terrific at both ends of the floor.”