BOSTON -- Gerald Wallace could tell from the disappointment in the Boston Celtics' locker room that his teammates understood the opportunity they kicked away in Sunday's overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons. But Wallace wanted to hammer home the urgency necessary over the final 13 games of the season and, as the team's elder statesman, elected to quietly address the team after the game.
The 32-year-old Wallace, a veteran of 13 NBA seasons, has learned over the past two years how to use his voice. Loudly critical of the team as it began the rebuilding process last season, Wallace soon recognized how and when to dish out the tough love. He has embraced the veteran leader/unofficial assistant coach role when his minutes have come sparingly, even leading on-court huddles in recent games.
On Sunday, Wallace grabbed eight rebounds over 12 minutes, 38 seconds of court time, doing his little part to put Boston in position for a much-needed win. Instead, the Celtics kicked away a 10-point lead over the final 16 minutes of regulation and endured a 105-97 loss in overtime.
Not only did the Celtics (30-39) fail to take advantage of losses by Miami and Milwaukee with a chance to dance a little closer to the sixth and seventh seeds in the Eastern Conference, but Charlotte's victory in Minnesota vaulted the Hornets to the eighth seed. The Celtics sit tied with Indiana, a half-game back of Charlotte, and 2 games behind Miami.
"I think everybody understood; everybody kinda felt this loss tonight," said Wallace. "They know we weren’t supposed to lose this game. We had two tough games on the road and, coming home, with the way our schedule is, this is a game that we had to win, that we needed to win. I think they understand we gave this game away."
Added Wallace: "We don’t have any disrespect toward Detroit, but this is a game that we were supposed to win, we had the opportunity to win, we put ourselves in position to win the ball game and then ... we just let the game get away. That’s something we can’t do. We have to finish out games, especially now."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has often noted how good teams take care of what they can control. Boston didn't do that on Sunday.
You can control being up four points in the final two minutes of a game. You can control whether a defender inexplicably loses track of Tayshaun Prince in the corner, leaving the Celtics castoff to drill a crucial 3-pointers with 75 seconds to play. You can control getting off a final shot in a tied game at the end of regulation.
But the Celtics lost control and now the road to the postseason is just a little bit more daunting. Now there's even less margin for error the rest of the way, including when the team treks to Brooklyn for the second night of a back-to-back against a Nets squad that has surged within a half game thanks to back-to-back wins.
"Like I just told the guys, we have to be more serious because giving away games like this, or losing games like this, we don’t have the schedule to make up games," said Wallace. "Every game counts for us right now and we gotta take it one game at a time and take care of those games."
The Celtics can't control not having Isaiah Thomas, who missed his seventh straight game due to a badly bruised lower back. But, if rookie Marcus Smart had better controlled his emotions during Friday's loss in San Antonio, then the team would have had him on the floor on Sunday when Detroit's guard-heavy lineups attacked Boston's perimeter defense.
"Obviously, as a team, [Smart] owes us one," said Evan Turner. Maybe recognizing that he was the one who couldn't get off the final shot with a chance to win in regulation, he quickly added, "I think we’re all motivated."
The Celtics are entering a crucial 10-day span of their schedule, a stretch that will see them play six games, including matchups with Brooklyn (Monday), Miami (Wednesday), Charlotte (March 30), and Indiana (April 1) -- the four teams in direct competition for the final two spots in the East.
There's less a month left in the regular season and Wallace demanded urgency from his teammates. And the fact that Wallace stood up to talk speaks volumes on its own.
"[Wallace has] been through it, he knows what it takes," said Jae Crowder. "We're a younger team and we have to listen to his leadership. ... We need a sense of urgency from everybody."