Though Shaquille O’Neal was the big-name acquisition before the game, Wallace was a major reason the Celtics came out on the winning end in Cleveland — something they haven’t done since Dec. 18, 2004.
Wallace showed no hesitation on the floor, and he was equally as confident after the game.
“Come on, ya’ll. Shoot,” Wallace said to reporters gathered around his locker.
Wallace credited Doc Rivers and the coaching staff for the team’s solid play.
“That’s just execution and repetition,” Wallace said. “Doc pounded it in our heads so much as far as going out there and executing plays. We had to get it right in practice, and it carried over to the game.”
Wallace entered the game with 4:54 left in the first quarter and the Celtics trailing 21-12. He missed his first jumper, warranting groans in living rooms throughout Boston. Wallace quickly made his misfire a distant memory, nailing a 3-pointer just 12 seconds later. He then came up with a block on a J.J. Hickson layup, picked up a few rebounds on both ends of the floor and then nailed another 3-pointer to tie the game at 32.
Wallace admitted he was a little anxious while sitting on the bench watching the Cavs jump out to a 14-point lead, but he knew the C’s were more than capable of turning the game around.
“They got out to that big start, but we didn’t panic,” he explained. “And our bench, we didn’t panic. We knew that we were capable of closing that lead and maybe going on and taking that lead, and that’s what we did.
“With me coming off the bench, I’ll always sit back and look, and [from there], you can see where you’re needed in a game and the things that you need to do. I knew we had to make some runs, get a couple stops, and that’s what we did.”
Though Wallace was quick to credit Rivers, the coach shot it right back at Wallace.
“Rasheed is so comfortable in his own skin, it’s amazing,” Rivers said after the game. “He walked on the floor when he came in with the second unit and grabbed the ball and just shot it and missed it. Then he shot it again and made it.
“I think he’s done it before, and he knows how to do it,” Rivers added. “And I don’t think a lot of things — except for the officials — excite him.”
Rivers might want to add defense to that list, because despite his 12 points in 24 minutes, Wallace made it clear that defense is his focus.
“That’s what we set it at. We set our whole team pride on defense,” Wallace said. “Defense wins championships, offense sells tickets. That’s a motto that I always believe, and that’s a motto that they believe here.
“Just go out and knuckle up, pretty much. Man to man, knuckle up.”
If Wednesday night was an indication of just hard the Celtics can knuckle up, the rest of the league is already going to have to start tinkering with those offensive game plans.
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