Rasheed Wallace the Key for Celtics’ Impressive Start

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Rasheed Wallace the Key for Celtics' Impressive Start It didn’t take Rasheed Wallace long to start making predictions as a Celtic.

“I think we can get that Bulls record,” the 14-year vet said in early October, a full two weeks before ever playing a regular-season game with his new club. The record he was referring to was the Bulls’ 72 wins in the 1995-96 season.

Asked if he was serious about reaching that mark, Wallace said coolly, “Oh, definitely. Definitely, playing with those three other guys, also combining that with the guys we have on the bench, I think we definitely can.”

As crazy as that statement sounded, Sheed hasn’t wasted any time making good on it. In fact, through five games, this guy has arguably been the difference between a Boston team that struggled down the stretch in 2008-09 and the one that has shellacked its opponents by an average of 22 points a game so far this go-round.

The clearest example of that impact came Tuesday night in Philadelphia. Showing off for his hometown crowd, Wallace torched the 76ers, hitting six of eight 3-pointers while posting 20 points, six boards, two steals and a block. Throw in a vintage-Sheed technical foul for mouthing off to the refs, and the C’s were on their way to a 31-point victory. Wallace’s plus-minus? Plus-30.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of that performance was Kevin Garnett‘s absence. He went a miserable 1-for-7 from the floor (and 1-of-4 from the charity stripe) and committed five turnovers in 23 minutes of play. Not to worry — Sheed picked up the pieces.

And it wasn’t just Tuesday. Wallace’s plus-minus marks in Boston’s first four games are impressive, to say the least:

Cleveland: plus-10
Charlotte: plus-1 (not that the starters needed much help in this one)
Chicago: plus-11
New Orleans: plus-4

All told, the Celtics are averaging a differential of plus-11.2 points with the newcomer on the floor.

How?

1. Spreading the defense
Wallace is averaging three treys per game through the first five at a clip of 45.5 percent. That ability to score both inside and out allows the Celtics to pick and roll their opponents to death. And they’re taking advantage, using open looks to mount a ridiculous field-goal percentage of 51.4, second in the NBA to Phoenix.

2. Defense
Sheed played five seasons for the bad-boy Pistons. He understands and appreciates Doc Rivers‘ emphasis on becoming “the greatest defense ever.” It’s why, per 36 minutes of play, the 6-foot-11 power forward is averaging a block, a steal and 7.5 boards.

As Rivers said Tuesday night, “We’re going to win because of our defense, no matter how good our offense is.”
 
3. Rest for KG
Garnett, coming off knee surgery, is playing just 28 minutes a contest to this point, almost 10 off his career average. The reason? Boston’s not losing any ground with Wallace on the floor. A 35-year-old and an Eastern Conference veteran, Wallace has picked up the offense and defense quickly. What’s even better is that a decrease in playing time for Garnett generally means he’s more efficient when he’s in.

4. Stats sheet
The bottom line is that Sheed makes an impact. Per 36 minutes of play, the four-time All-Star is posting 20 points on 46 percent shooting. Sure, Boston was upset to lose Glen Davis for a couple of months, but the fact is that Davis simply isn’t good enough yet to bank that kind of change.

Does all that add up to 72 wins? Probably not. No team other than the Bulls has even reached 70, and Doc is too patient to push his club for a regular-season record only to run out of steam in the postseason.

What it does add up to, though, is a team — with the return of KG and addition of Wallace and Marquis Daniels — vastly improved over the club that bowed out to the Magic in the 2009 playoffs.

And I’m sure even Sheed would agree: Banner No. 18 would be far sweeter than win No. 72.

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