Refs finally let 'Sheed play

Originally Published: June 13, 2004
By Joe Lago | ESPN.com

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Rasheed Wallace shrugged off his 26-point, 13-rebound breakthrough performance in Game 4 of the NBA Finals as "just my night." But at what point of Detroit's 88-80 win over the Lakers did he know it was his time to shine?

Was it when he sank his last two free throws with five minutes left to cap a perfect 6-for-6 night from the line? Not exactly.

Rasheed Wallace
APRasheed Wallace can be effective in the post when he has an advantage over a defender.

Was it when he swished a straightaway 14-foot jumper with a minute left to cap a 10-point fourth quarter and push the Pistons back to an 86-78 lead? Nope.

Wallace knew Sunday night was his night near the end of the first quarter when he walked to the Pistons' bench and none of the referees' whistles had been intended for him.

Eleven first-quarter minutes. Zero first-quarter fouls.

For the first time in the Finals, the refs had let the Pistons' imported bad boy play, period.

"It just felt good for the first time in this series to play in the second quarter," Wallace said.

Not saddled with the foul trouble that super-glued him to the bench in the first three games, Wallace logged 21 first-half minutes, 10 in the second quarter. Before Sunday, he had been on the court in the second period for a whopping 12.4 seconds.

Finally given the freedom to roam the court, Wallace scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds in the first half, with four points and five boards coming in the second quarter. Wallace made an even bigger impact on the defensive end, helping harass the Lakers into 28.6 percent shooting in the second quarter as the Pistons took a 41-39 lead into halftime.

"I think Rasheed gives them a lot of confidence because he's been there before," said Kobe Bryant, who often saw Wallace as a second defender during an 8-for-25 shooting night. "He gives them defensively a big presence."

In the second half, Wallace, who entered the game averaging just 9.3 points in the Finals, made his biggest contribution on offense, namely in the low post. With Karl Malone still limited by a sprained right knee, Phil Jackson had no choice but to send rookie Luke Walton and third-year reserve Slava Medvedenko at Wallace.

After Malone left the game for good with 7:30 left in the third quarter, Wallace went to work, scoring 15 of his 17 second-half points. Irked by an elbow thrown by Medvedenko that resulted in double technical fouls, Wallace scored five straight points in the low post against Medvedenko on a jump hook and 3-point play for a 54-50 Pistons lead.

"I knew Karl was a little hobbled, so that was one of the weaknesses in their defense," Wallace said. "But that's something that we had to attack, not only with myself but if Ben [Wallace] had a chance to post up against them or take them out on a wing, whatever, [we] just got to attack them."

"They really hadn't had to deal with Rasheed in the post before," Ben Wallace said. "He was able to get down there and get some guys in foul trouble, hit some shots and make plays for his teammates. I hope everybody is starting to realize how important he is to this team."

After Rasheed Wallace scored only three points in Detroit's 88-68 victory in Game 3, the Pistons went out of their way to declare that 'Sheed's scoring wasn't important. "But we needed it tonight," Elden Campbell said.

"We needed every bit of those points he scored tonight," Campbell continued. "We wound up shooting (42.6 percent) but we weren't really that good offensively tonight. We did what we had to do."

Wallace took his best shot after the game, when he was asked whether winning an NBA title would change the way he's perceived by the media.

"So you think that if we do win it Tuesday or whatever, you think y'all are still going to write nothing bad about me?" he responded.

"That doesn't bother me, man, because like my mom always told me, 50 percent of the people love you and 50 percent hate you," he added. "So what y'all write about [what you want about] me. It's all like water off a duck's back, man."

Joe Lago is the NBA editor for ESPN.com.

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