Let’s be clear: Rasheed Wallace deserved every bit of criticism Celtics fans directed his way this season. He showed up out of shape—with “rolls of fat” hanging over his waistline, Ric Bucher said in one ESPN.com Podcast—and he spent the first 50 games of the season jacking threes at a ‘Toine-like rate even though he was making fewer than 30 percent of them.
And his defense? Let’s be nice and say it came and went. He has been a target of Cleveland’s offense every second he has been on the floor in this series, and until Sunday, he was not up to the challenge on that end.
But in the 4th quarter on Sunday, when the Celtics absolutely had to have a win, Rasheed Wallace protected the paint as if it were 2002 again. He started the game as nothing more than Boston’s front line foul absorber, kept on the floor with three fouls during the 2nd quarter just so more important players—players who would be needed later—didn’t pick up those same fouls. He finished the game as an impact player on defense.
The interesting thing? From the 11:11 mark of the 4th quarter until the 4:50 mark, when Perk replaced him, Sheed had to contend with a small-ish Cleveland line-up designed to be too quick for Boston’s centers. Mike Brown pulled Shaq 49 seconds into the 4th and went the rest of the way with Anderson Varejao or J.J. Hickson playing center. Doc stuck with a traditional line-up, perhaps thinking the C’s would need Sheed’s “outside shooting” if Cleveland packed the paint against the TA-Rondo combo.
And the Cavs went at Sheed, running screen/rolls and driving into the paint, forcing him to rotate:
• With 9:56 left, the Cavs run a Hickson/James screen/roll on the left side, and Big Baby, guarding Hickson, jumps out to cut off LeBron. Hickson pops down to the left baseline, about 18 feet from the hoop. Sheed, standing on the right side of the paint, sees that Baby is not going to be able to recover in time and sprints over to take Hickson just as James feeds Hickson the ball. (Big Baby switches onto Varejao).
Hickson, seeing his quickness advantage, tries to take Sheed one-on-one. Sheed stays with him, back-pedaling until Hickson goes up for a shot, at which point Sheed smacks the ball away. Sheed collects the ball and tosses to Rondo, who then hooks up with Baby for that insane football pass and lay-in. (What an incredible catch-and-finish by Glen Davis, huh?).
• On Cleveland’s next possession, Sheed is guarding Hickson at the top of the key when he makes a fantastic read. He sees LeBron begin an aggressive drive against Rondo (guarding LBJ after a switch) from behind the three-point line on the right side. Watch the clip: Sheed drifts down into the paint to help on LeBron before James even crosses the three-point line on his drive.
When James arrives in the paint, Rondo is on the floor and James is in the air for what appears to be an easy lay-in. But there is Sheed, swiping at the ball. It’s hard to tell whether Sheed hits the ball, LeBron’s arm or nothing but air. But something happens, and LBJ loses the ball on the way up. The C’s recover and push, leading to a Tony Allen baseline drive against Hickson to make it 80-72 Boston.
(Side note: That basket may have been the most mature play of Tony Allen’s career. Paul Pierce found TA under the hoop in transition, but Jamison and Hickson were all over him. TA had no real shot, but it looked for a moment like he was going to try a classic reckless TA play in the paint. Instead, he dribbled out to the corner, realized Hickson was on him and waited for his teammates to clear out. He then blew by Hickson on the baseline. A great play).
• On Cleveland’s next possession, Sheed rotates left-to-right across the paint (leaving Hickson again) to get a piece of what would otherwise have been a wide-open Delonte West lay-in. The block ignited a fast break that ended with another Rondo-to-Big Baby lay-up.
• Two Cleveland possessions later (8:20), Sheed is on the left side of the court guarding Varejao when Mo Williams and Jamison run a screen/roll on the opposite side. The play frees Williams for a drive to the hoop. Once again, though, Sheed sees what’s happening early and reacts quickly. Williams has barely crossed the three-point line when Sheed moves off of Varejao and into the paint near the block/charge circle.
He meets Mo there and strips the ball away as Williams goes up for the lay-in.
These plays show how crucial it is for Sheed to be fully engaged. He’s not the athlete he once was, and if he’s going to arrive at a certain spot on the floor at the right time, he needs to read the play early to give himself enough time to get there. If he does that, he has a chance to make a play. If he doesn’t, he’ll either do nothing or commit a foul.
On Sunday, he was fully engaged.
• Finally, on Cleveland’s next possession (7:23), Sheed grabbed what may have been the best rebound of his season. Antawn Jamison launches a three that misses and bounces to about the dotted line. Anderson Varejao is in front of Sheed; Anthony Parker is behind him. Sheed fights off both of them to control the ball, drawing a foul on Parker in the process.
The C’s were +5 in the 4th before Perk replaced Sheed. And Sheed had a lot to do with that +5. You couldn’t say that often during the regular season.
Does about 10 minutes of strong defense make up for the rest of Sheed’s season? What about 10 minutes of strong defense plus a scoring outburst in Game 2? Does that justify a $6 million paycheck and erase memories of a season’s worth of substandard play?
Keep in mind: There are still at least two more games in this series and two more years on Sheed’s contract. But for one game, Sheed found a way to contribute without making a shot.