The Celtics are clearly a rebuilding team, and most teams would excuse even a contender for struggling in the preseason.
Gerald Wallace, however, does not suffer losses — preseason or regular — lightly. He has made this clear already earlier in the preseason, and according to several Celtics beat writers, his rant after Boston’s 104-89 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves was a special kind of rant.
Wallace’s comments are a pretty poignant reminder that whether or not we support Danny Ainge’s rebuilding strategy, the players on the floor are still professionals who take their jobs very seriously. It would be difficult to convince any NBA player to be part of a rebuild/tanking season, and for a 31-year-old vet like Gerald Wallace — who has always prided himself on maximum effort and throwing his body around for the good of the team, such a season must feel like a waste.
For my money, Wallace’s comments ignore a few obvious positives from tonight’s game. In the first half, the Celtics’ offense was working surprisingly well. The Wolves, a legitimately good team this year and likely a contender for one of the final playoff spots in a loaded Western Conference, were struggling to contain Boston’s transition game. The Celtics, for once, were able to push the ball and avoid turnovers (just 11 turnovers for the evening), and the result was that the Celtics trailed by just five as late as 3:29 in the third quarter.
But eventually, Minnesota’s talent was just too much for the overmatched Cs. Kevins Love and Martin combined for 43 points, and Martin split Boston apart with 5-for-8 shooting from 3-point range.
This will likely be a theme for the Celtics all season. Long stretches of middling-to-solid play could fall apart at a moment’s notice as a young team struggles to build the mental fortitude to stay in a game until the end. That development is a big part of the nebulous term “process” which we use frequently. Learning how to win is a process, and along the way, better teams like Minnesota will feast on the inexperience.
Wallace, however, would be excused for being a little too close to the fact to make the “process” distinction. It’s his job to perform at a high level, and to perform at a high level, he has always had to throw himself around the court like a possessed man, diving after loose balls (something we saw from him tonight), racing out in transition and banging around for rebounds. Frankly, he deserves better than to toil for a team that is going to finish well below .500.
But such is the curse of being well paid in today’s NBA. Any contender would be happy to have a player like Wallace along for the ride — someone willing to inject life and energy into a lineup, someone willing to make hustle plays, someone who will motivate underachieving players. These types are invaluable to a title run (think James Posey from 2008). Most contenders, however, are hard up against the luxury tax, and adding $10 million to their bill for a non-superstar player like Wallace just isn’t financially possible.
You could make the case that Wallace should shut up and accept his big paychecks, at which point I will make the case that you should stop talking about sports. Wallace is well-paid, but money doesn’t buy job satisfaction. It’s probably going to be a tough year for Crash.
Let’s do some bullet points from tonight’s game:
–Kelly Olynyk exited the game with 10:57 remaining in the second quarter and wouldn’t re-enter until the 3:26 mark in the third. He was 2-for-4 from the field with six rebounds in 19 minutes. His rebounding totals were solid, and he did a solid job positioning himself around the basket.
–Jared Sullinger was 0-for-3 from 3-point range tonight from behind the arc. I’ve defended his long-range shooting experiment because I like the spacing it would provide (and because, frankly, what’s he hurting this season?). But when 3-pointers make up nearly half his field goal attempts, he’s taking too many. He struggled against the height and strength of Wolves center Nikola Pekovic, who was able to counteract Sullinger’s strength and then some, but if Sully is taking this many 3-pointers going forward, something will need to change.
–Avery Bradley vs. Ricky Rubio turned out to be a fun match-up toward the end of the second quarter. Bradley’s pressure bothered Rubio, but Minnesota’s flashy point guard was creative enough to break the pressure several times.
–Jeff Green was aggressive early, driving the basket and taking good 3-pointers. Minnesota, however, made the adjustments we’ve been seeing from opponents all season and zeroed in on Green as Boston’s best offensive option. As a result, Green finished with a typical-for-his-preseason-thus-far line of 3-for-10 shooting, 1-for-5 from 3-point range. It’s worth noting, however, that his aggression did lead to seven trips to the free throw line.
–Vitor Faverani finished 3-for-6 with eight points. Most notable of his baskets was a nice spin move to the baseline and a left-handed hook shot.
–The team stats were generally unkind to the Celtics. The Wolves finished 40% from 3-point range to Boston’s 11.5% (awful), outrebounded the Celtics 54-40, and out-assisted the C’s 20-12.
The final score was a bad indicator of Boston’s performance against a better team. For parts of the game, the Celtics were solid. For the deciding stretches, they were decidedly less so.
One has to wonder, however, how long a proud veteran like Gerald Wallace will be able to deal with losses like this.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.