BOSTON — Only two games into the season, Celtics fans should know by now not to take Gerald Wallace‘s sky-is-falling comments to heart.
In the immediate aftermath of defeat, the veteran forward is prone to calling his team “selfish” and other harsh-sounding adjectives that play big in headlines. But all Wallace’s knee-jerk remarks prove is that he conducts postgame interviews like he plays: at full speed and without much regard for how it will play out.
Still, it cannot be encouraging that Wallace again went to the “s” word Friday after the Celtics blew a 22-point lead in a 105-98 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We got selfish,” Wallace said. “Instead of worrying about winning the ball game, we were more worried about our stats and getting points. It showed. We went from a team that was together and moving and playing together in the first half to a team that was five individuals out on the court, everyone playing for themselves, and it showed on the defensive end.”
The Celtics led 63-47 at halftime in their home opener while dominating every facet of the game. They held the Bucks to 40 percent shooting in the first half, out-rebounded them 28-19 and outscored them in the paint 42-26. Vitor Faverani was the first-half standout and finished the game with a gaudy stat line of 12 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots in his second career NBA game.
Those winning attributes did not stick around for the second half, though. After momentarily stretching their lead to 22 points at the 7:00 mark in the third quarter, the Celtics were outscored 21-11 the remainder of the quarter. They just barely scored more points in quarters three and four combined — 35 — than the 34 points they scored in the second quarter alone.
Wallace was at a loss to explain what happened.
“I don’t have a clue,” he said. “You’ve got to ask everybody in here. I really don’t understand it. I’m trying to figure out what’s more important, winning or padding your stats. This was a game we were supposed to win easily, without even the starters playing the fourth quarter. Instead, we got selfish as a team. We didn’t move the ball, we let the ball stick instead of pushing the ball and their second unit came in and they handled us. We didn’t really know what to do.”
Wallace could not be accused of padding his stats. He took just three shots in the first half and made all three, while dealing out a team-high three assists. (He finished with 14 points and four assists in the game.) And while Wallace was right about the Bucks’ second unit dominating the Celtics’ second unit with a 80-34 bench scoring advantage, it is tough to deduce who he felt was chasing individual numbers.
Brandon Bass missed all four shots he took in the fourth quarter, including two heavily contested shots in crunch time. But Bass also contributed 17 points and nine rebounds for the game, and the Celtics needed every one of those points and rebounds to build their large lead in the first place. Jeff Green took five shots in the fourth quarter and missed them all, but they were not shots he doesn’t normally take anyway. (Whether one believes those are good shots in the first place is another matter.)
If anything, Green needed to be more assertive in getting the ball out of Bass’ hands and making sure the Celtics stuck with the things that got them that 22-point edge in the first place.
“We can’t play like that,” Green said. “It all starts with me. I’ve got to take the initiative and stop it. Things like that, I can’t allow our team to go in that direction. I take responsibility for that and next game will be better.”
In the early part of the season, it has been interesting to watch how each player reacts to losing. Wallace clearly gets defiant. Green was morose. Courtney Lee, who had one of his best games in memory as a Celtic with 13 points, was resolved.
“It definitely snowballed today, but we need to stop it so it doesn’t continue to,” Lee said. “We’ve got to figure out why we’re going through that bad stretch. We got a sense of it [Friday]. The first half, we were running our offense and getting stops. Second half, we got away from that.”
Selfish? No, it was not that straightforward. The Celtics have loads of shortcomings as a team, as any savvy observer predicted they would. An attitude adjustment may help the cause, but that alone will not solve the Celtics’ issues.