The average NBA fan peeking at a box-score might consider Gerald Wallace one of the league’s most overpaid and overrated players. Inside the locker room, his teammates consider him one of the most important. His coach considers him one of the most versatile.
Never hesitant to do the dirty work, and never shy to criticize a shoddy effort.
“What he does can’t just be seen on stats, his hustle, his energy, his intensity,” Deron Williams said. “Just doing the little things that nobody else wants to do and those are the intangibles he brings to this team.”
Such was the case in Brooklyn’s 93-89 win over a severely undermanned Chicago Bulls team at the Barclays Center on Friday night. Despite the Bulls missing Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, and still Derrick Rose, the outcome was in doubt.
“We don’t want to take anything away from our win, but they weren’t at 100 percent,” Wallace said. “We were able to just outmuscle them with the guys we had on the court, but there’s still some things we could have done better in this game.”
The Bulls forced P.J. Carlesimo to make some difficult lineup choices as Tom Thibodeau used the bodies available to him to dictate the pace. The faster, more athletic Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler created several mismatches with the smaller lineup.
Even though the Nets rely on Wallace to do the things that don’t always show up in the stats, his effort did not go unrewarded. His tip-in in traffic with 31 seconds left in the game pushed the Nets lead to 91-86.
He finished with six points on 3-of-4 shooting and 13 rebounds. Wallace also boasted a game-high plus-8 rating.
And while the entire lineup fluctuated, Wallace remained the constant. He shifted from small forward to power forward and even center for a brief stint to counter what Thibodeau threw at the Nets.
“His intangibles, night in and night out, I think he’s arguably the most important piece to our team,” center Brook Lopez said of Wallace. “When he’s there, his energy just does loads for us... You can’t really explain what he does, he’s just so good.”
Wallace played the lion’s share of the minutes, 41:26 to be exact, as Lopez, Deron Williams, and Joe Johsnon spent the bulk of the fourth quarter on the bench. In Lopez’s case, the recently-named All-Star sat the entire final frame.
Wallace, who has become the most informative Net when it comes to execution, did not hesitate to call out his team for what he termed an “embarrassing” loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday.
Wallace wore his emotions on his sleeve following the Miami loss, but he picks his spots. He leads by example but talks when necessary. The de facto Nets captain for a team that has been lacking leadership since Jason Kidd left town.
According to the players, Wallace and Reggie Evans are the “emotional leaders” for the team. For Wallace, his job is a bit more simplistic.
“Man, I just play basketball,” Wallace said. “You can call it whatever you want or however you see it, my thing is I just enjoy the game of basketball. I go out and play and whatever the coaches or my teammates need me to do to help us win. They know I’ll do it at 110 percent and give it my all.
“That’s just the enjoyment of the game I’ve loved since I was two or three years old,” Wallace added.
Wallace tries to “lead by example” and that attitude is contagious among the players.
“When you see (Wallace) doing what he does, sacrificing his body, making all the big plays, you just have to follow him,” Lopez said.
Even following a painstakingly grind-out win over the Bulls, Wallace was the only Net to downplay the significance. He realized the Nets did not learn much about themselves against the Bulls. The Nets will take the win, but they are not out of the woods yet.
After losing three out of four games, games in which Wallace said the Nets got their “ass kicked,” the Nets faced off against the Bulls’ second unit. Taj Gibson played all 48 minute while Luol Deng sat for only four seconds.
“This was just our second unit,” Gibson said. “We just played hard with our second unit. This was good for our team especially when we get everyone together again for the playoffs. It showed we have a shot winning in the East.”
If the Nets want to join the Bulls in that quest, they’ll need to make some quick adjustments. That fact is not lost on Wallace.
“I wasn’t happy (after the skid) because I think there were some things we could have done better and we could’ve made this game a lot easier for us tonight,” Wallace said. “A win is a win and we’ll take it, but there’s definitely things we’ve got to get better at and continue to get better at as a team.”