- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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CLEVELAND -- When Boston's Rasheed Wallace bricked a 3-pointer at the conclusion of the third quarter in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, he stomped back to the bench in mock frustration, a big smile across his face.
It was a familiar moment for Wallace, who has misfired on a passel of trifectas since coming to Boston this season -- 208 of the 290 he hoisted during the regular season, and all three he had previously attempted in the postseason coming into Monday night.
Those misses -- and other transgressions -- have left Celtics fans stomping mad in genuine frustration with a player who was brought in to lift the Green over the second-round hump they got stuck on last year in the playoffs.
On Monday night, both Wallace and the fans who want to love him could smile. In what amounted to a must-win for Boston, that 3-pointer was the only shot Wallace missed.
One day after Celtics coach Doc Rivers suggested Wallace's playing time could be in jeopardy, the 15th-year veteran responded by scoring 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, drilling a trio of trifectas and adding a pair of rebounds in 18:11 of playing time, as the Celtics topped Cleveland 104-86 to even their best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
Game 3 is Friday in Boston.
"Coach called upon him to step up and he did that," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "That's the reason we brought him in, because he can be the X factor in these type of series. He has championship experience. He's our go-to guy in the post on the second unit and we're going to need that from him every night."
To be sure, the Celtics didn't bring Wallace to Boston for three years and $19 million for one performance.
They'll need more consistency from Wallace to truly have a chance at winning this series, but considering he matched his Monday night output just five times during the regular season, the Celtics were thrilled with his effort in Game 2.
To his credit, Wallace didn't talk to reporters following Monday's win. In past games, he's deferred to teammates like Glen Davis when they've carried the bench, and he didn't want it to seem he was thrusting himself into the spotlight for a single quality outing.
When Wallace wheeled around after getting dressed Monday, he simply slid his headphones on, picked up his iPad, and pardoned himself by walking through the middle of a camera throng hoping for some classic SheedSpeak.
They'd have to settle for the on-the-court version of retro Rasheed. Wallace, who came in averaging a mere 3.5 points and 2 rebounds this postseason, carried a Boston bench that was nonexistent in a Game 1 loss.
"That was the difference in the game. Rasheed Wallace did huge things for us tonight," said Davis.
Despite the sunglasses he carried after the game, it wasn't all sunny for Wallace on Monday.
He did finish a team-worst minus-2 in the plus/minus category, the result of being on the court as Cleveland trimmed a 23-point deficit down to 10 in the fourth quarter.
Wallace also didn't score in the pivotal third quarter and played only the final two minutes after Boston had already built its sizable cushion.
And J.J. Hickson blew past Wallace late in the third quarter, forcing him to foul in desperation. Fortunately, Hickson missed the first of two free throws.
Ball don't lie. Clearly it was Wallace's night. And while he didn't discuss his performance, others were more than happy to.
Said Kevin Garnett: "Rasheed played really big tonight. He was the difference to me."
Said Tony Allen: "Rasheed Wallace was big tonight. He's a veteran, he's Rasheed Wallace. He's been in the league for a while. I think this was a great time for him to get his thing going."
But the two biggest compliments came from Rivers and Kendrick Perkins.
It was Rivers who challenged Wallace to step up his defense or risk losing the minutes that already had been diminished late in the season.
"I thought Rasheed was phenomenal," said Rivers. "Obviously, the 3-pointers were huge, but his post play was good, as well. I thought, defensively, he was so much better than he's been for us. We need that from him."
Sure, the 17 points jump out, but how good was Wallace's defense? Perkins, the team's most consistent defender, offered a thumbs-up review.
"The whole time, he was focused," said Perkins. "He was doing a lot of great things for us tonight. That's what we need out of Rasheed every night."
Davis, who responded after being challenged by Rivers to avoid being a one-game wonder during the Miami series, seems to believe there's also more than one big outing in Wallace.
"We always expect Rasheed to play well," said Davis. "He never wants to sit down, never wants to sit out a practice. He plays the game like it's made to be played. Today was his day."
The Celtics need Friday and Sunday to be Wallace's day, as well. Or else those smiles -- and the Celtics' season -- could disappear quickly.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
After a season of frustration, Rasheed Wallace can smile after Game 2.