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Gerald Wallace: Seventh Man of the Year?

11.07.13 at 1:00 am ET

Asked if anyone in the Celtics organization ever explained the history of the Sixth Man in Boston — a Red Auerbach creation that brought NBA Hall of Famers Frank Ramsey, John Havlicek, Kevin McHale and Bill Walton off the bench — Gerald Wallace had no idea what all that fuss was about.

“I’m like the seventh man, though,” said Wallace, who came off the bench for the first time to contribute nine points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes. “Sully [Jared Sullinger] was the first one off the bench. I’m the seventh man.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens told Wallace he’d be joining Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk in the second unit frontcourt, and while he thought the timing could have been better, the 31-year-old couldn’t argue with the results.

“I wouldn’t say not happy,” said Wallace after his team’s first win of the season, a 97-87 victory against the winless Jazz. “I’d say kind of confused. It’s the first time since I was actually traded to Portland and came off the bench two or three games for them. I’m trying to figure it out. It’s a new experience for me. We’re still trying to figure it out as a team. It’s something different, but it worked, so maybe it’s something we can go with.”

Wallace came off the bench just once for the Nets last season — suffering bruised ribs in the process — and started every game of his previous four seasons save for an eight-game stretch after being traded to the Blazers in 2010-11. As a result, he experienced some back tightness that slowed his production in the second half.

“I only know how to play one way, and that’s 110 percent,” he said. “When I got out onto the court tonight, I was able to do that. I’ve got to prepare more coming off the bench. My back tightened up getting in there. It’s a lot different coming off the bench, but other than that it was a fun experience.”

Upon entering the game midway through the first quarter, Wallace’s effort on both ends of the floor helped turn an early eight-point deficit into a three-point lead two minutes into the second quarter.

“You can’t be mad after tonight’s result,” he said. “We got our first win, so it’s something that worked out. The whole shocking part about it was that it’s new to me. This is my 13th season. Other than being on the bench my first three years in Sacramento, I’ve always been a starter. I’ve busted my butt to be a starter, to try to be productive in that starting unit. This is the first year I have to come off the bench, so it’s a new process. It’s always awfully confusing when something new is thrown at you in the start, but who knows? This might be the best thing for my career.”

Wallace started and averaged 35.0 minutes over his first four games, and that might be too much.

“My main thing is trying to figure out where I fit in and my role and my situation, but I think I pretty much know that now,” he said. “I’ll move forward, continue to play and do my role. Coming off the bench, especially for me this late in my career, is pretty good. I don’t think I can average 30, 35, 40 minutes anymore. I think those days are gone, but coming in, playing a hard 25 minutes is good for me. I’m able to help my teammates out, and I played pretty good with the second unit. and it helps our team a whole lot bringing energy off the bench.”

They don’t call him Crash for nothing, although, until Wallace made them aware, Sullinger and Brandon Bass didn’t know the nickname Charlotte fans once selected over The Force in a contest. As Wallace said: “You can’t change the way I play. I’m going to play that way if I’m at home playing against my kids. Crashing a whole lot.”

After experiencing victory for the first time in a Celtics uniform, Wallace’s postgame comments were a whole lot different from last week’s, when he called his “selfish” teammates a bunch of stat-padders.

“I think the ball moved pretty good,” he said. “I think the biggest problem tonight was getting off to that sluggish start. We got down 16-3, and it wasn’t because of selfishness. I think we were just sluggish. We came out with our feets in the concrete. They came out running. Our second unit was able to get us back going. We moved the ball, the defense turned up. I think they scored nine or 10 points in the second quarter, so obviously our defense stepped up and got us back in the game, got us a lead and we were able to keep going from there.”

After the success of this experiment, Wallace may be a permanent fixture on that second unit.

“It’s a totally different mindset coming off the bench than starting,” he said. “I was telling the guys, usually as starters you take that first minute to two-and-a-half minutes in the game to kind of warm up, loose, get going and everything. Coming off the bench, as soon as you step on the court, the game is already at 100 miles per hour. You’re dropping right into the fire right then and going. It’s totally different. You have to prepare different for that.”

It should be easier for Wallace to prepare now that he knows his role on this Celtics team: Seventh Man.

“Whatever the team needs me to do,” he said. “If they need me to score 30, I’m not going to say I’m going to score 30, but I’m going to try my best to score 30. If they need me to try to lock down the other team’s best player, then that’s what I do. I’m here for the team, and whatever the team needs me to do to win, then that’s what I’ll do.”

It’s a whole new Gerald Wallace. Well, as long as they’re winning anyway.

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