Has the last air ball been chucked?
As I wrote in the first installment of this series, Rasheed Wallace is the embodiment of the flip-switching idea. His lackluster play has been causing Celtics fans frustration all season long. The Sheed-haters have been angry because his air balls have been dragging down the team. The loyalists, because they're running out of excuses for him.
Last night, Wallace gave his fans plenty of ammo. It took him 7 games, but Rasheed may have finally flipped the switch.
Yesterday, Sheed entered Quicken Loans Arena under a lot of pressure. He was -20 in the post season and averaging a mere 3.5 points and 2 rebounds. Supposedly, this was the time of year that got Sheed motivated, yet his playoff performance failed to look any different from his disappointing regular season. His team (who struggled to close the season) had turned it on - nearly sweeping the Heat and advancing to the second round. However, they had done this not because of Sheed, but despite him. It was beginning to look like the Lazy Chucker just didn't have it anymore - or didn't want to. After another poor performance in Game 1's loss against Cleveland, Doc had to make a decision, "[Wallace] has to play better, bottom line. He has to play better defense - the offense will come...we can't wait [for him]". If Sheed failed to perform yet again, it's likely the veteran would've been pulled in favor of Shelden Williams.
Sheed answered the call. He lit up the stat sheet with 17 points in 18 minutes, with the majority of his contributions coming in the first half. The most impressive part was that he was a dead-on 7/8 from the field and 3/4 behind the three point line. This is the guy that had trained the stomachs of Celtics fans to instinctively churn whenever he attempted a shot more than 2 feet. Last night he only missed one. Sheed was on the court in the fourth quarter for the Cavaliers' attempt at a comeback. This cut his plus/minus down to -2. However, Sheed can hardly be singled out for this and it didn't effect the opinions of his teammates and coaches. After the game, Rivers said, "...He was so much better than he's been for us. We need that from him"; Perkins added, "He was doing a lot of great things for us tonight. That's what we need out of Rasheed every night".
Perkins is right, this is what the team needs out of Sheed every night. Everyone predicted that Wallace would have at least one or two great games this post-season. However, it's consistency the Celtics need from Sheed. A performance like last night's, though rare, is not exactly unique. For evidence, one need look no further than March 31st when the Oklahoma City Thunder came to the Garden. In that game, Rasheed scored 18 points on 7/8 shooting and had the crowd chanting, "Sheeeed!". Was the horror that was Wallace's regular season over? No. While he scored 11 points the next game in a losing effort against Houston, for the most part his play returned to normal. If Sheed's shown any consistency, it's that he's consistently disappointing with the penchant for an occasional surprise.
Of course, after his performance last night, it's not fair to bash Sheed. He was called out for poor play and he delivered. What I mean to say is - the pressure isn't off. One game does not redeem a season. I'm not expecting him to score 20 points a game. Rather, I just ask that he continues to be a factor for the remainder of the post-season. The potential that Wallace brings to the Celtics has only been shown in short bursts. If Sheed can show consistency and help the Celtics bring home another championship, then I think it's safe to say all his misgivings will be forgiven.
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Michael Saver 5/04/2010 02:54:00 PM Tweet Edit