Seeing the Celtics take the floor for Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers last month, you couldn't help but be a little bit confident. After all, this was the Celtics — experienced, battle-tested and ready for any challenge that came their way. Especially the newest member of their starting five. But what if that grizzled 35-year-old veteran is gone for good? Will the Celtics miss Rasheed Wallace?
When Sheed took the floor for Game 7 of the Finals at the Staples Center, starting in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins, he gave the Celtics an intangible boost with his playoff acumen. He was the only man on the floor with Finals Game 7 experience, which he gained five years prior, when Sheed's Pistons had gone down swinging against Tim Duncan's Spurs. He knew how to handle the big moment, and in fact, it was what he lived for.
Will the C's miss Sheed? It's a two-part question. In the regular season? They probably won't notice he's missing. You don't need a 15-year veteran to jack up 3's and treat defense, rebounding and team play with complete apathy. But in the postseason, when things get thick? Yeah. Sheed is a guy you want by your side.
When the Celtics first went after Sheed last summer, striking a deal on July 8, 2009, to pay him $18 million over three seasons, they weren't getting him to help them win games in the dog days of January. They got him for the playoffs, where he's been every spring since he was 22 years old. Sheed ranks fourth among all active players in playoff minutes — trailing only Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and the aforementioned Duncan. He knows what he's doing when the games get tough.
The C's didn't get Sheed expecting much of anything in the regular season. On that front, Sheed didn't disappoint.
From November through April, he was sluggish and lazy on both ends of the floor. On the offensive end, he'd heave up shots with no remorse; on defense, he'd hack away and complain when he drew the inevitable whistle.
He gradually played himself into shape. It took him a while to shake all the rust away, but he eventually got the job done.
Sheed eventually became a post presence when his team needed him. When it came playoff time, the Celtics had a big body to throw at Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. They had a low-post scorer when they wanted one, but they still had Sheed's occasional 3-point threat as a way of spreading the floor.
He had a couple of brilliant shooting nights — 7-for-8 in Game 2 against Cleveland, finishing with 17 points, and 7-for-9 in Game 6 against the Magic, for 21. He got physical without getting reckless. In the Finals, he even started working hard on the glass.
And he capped it all off with a titanic effort in Game 7 against the Lakers. You might even say he played that game like it was his last.
It probably was.
Sheed's days in Boston are likely over. In his absence, we can expect Jermaine O'Neal to do all he can to fill his shoes, working hard as a low-post presence on both ends of the floor. We'll see Glen Davis coming off the bench, getting more minutes than ever. We may even see Luke Harangody, the Celtics' second-round selection in last month's draft, make a real contribution.
That is all well and good for the first six months or so of next season. But eventually, the Celtics will get to the games that really matter — and yes, that's when they'll start to miss Rasheed Wallace.
NESN.com will answer one Celtics question every day in July.
Sunday, July 11: Can the Celtics rebuild their bench?
Tuesday, July 13: Will Glen Davis keep maturing?