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Dan Devine

Gather ye rosebuds: Appreciate Gerald Wallace while you can

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I joked on Twitter last night that on this play, Mickael Pietrus(notes) was a lot like D'Angelo Barksdale, because he didn't know where Wallace was. Gerald Wallace'll(notes) do that to you if you're fixin' on laying the ball up — appear out of nowhere, explode into orbit and erase your trace like Nevada Econet (by the way, Happy Earth Day, y'all). It's one of the many reasons that we should take a sec while he's still playing to national audiences to be really, really psyched about how dope he is.

During halftime of Game 2 in the first-round Eastern Conference Playoffs series between Wallace's Charlotte Bobcats and Pietrus' Orlando Magic, TNT commentator Kenny Smith ticked off five ways he felt a player can impact a basketball game — by playing excellent offense, defense and rebounding, by controlling the tempo of the game and by providing leadership. He lauded Crash's ability to change games as a rebounder (as evidenced by his 17-board performance in Game 1) and a defender (as evidenced by his four-block outing last night, including some wonderful weak-side help to snuff a Dwight Howard(notes) attempt with about a minute left to go in an offensively dismal first quarter).

Smith stopped short of praising Wallace's offense, tempo-control and leadership, but he's nothing to sneeze at in those areas, either. Though you wouldn't call his offensive arsenal world-beating, Wallace did notch above-league-average True Shooting and Effective Field Goal percentages this season (58.6 percent and 51.1 percent, respectively) while shooting a career-best 37.1 percent on three-pointers. Under the bright lights of the playoffs, he's still shown that he can play efficiently, popping for 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Game 1 and adding 15 points on just seven field-goal attempts in Game 2 by getting to the free-throw line 10 times.

Admittedly, "control" isn't the most comfortable fit in a sentence structure that also includes the words "Gerald Wallace" and "tempo" — "frenetic," "hyperkinetic," "quicksilver" and "like the light cycle scene in 'Tron'" probably spring to mind more readily — but with lead scorer Stephen Jackson(notes) and the point-guard duo of Raymond Felton(notes) and D.J. Augustin(notes) bearing more responsibility for Charlotte's ball-handling duties, controlling offensive pace isn't too large a part of Gerald's job description. And he's obviously the key to Bobcats' oppressive defensive tempo, averaging more than three combined steals, blocks and charges taken per game in the '09-'10 campaign.

As for leadership — the most nebulous but perhaps most important of Smith's five factors — that kind of depends on how you define the word. Wallace clearly defers to Jackson when it's time to get buckets (last night's fourth quarter, for example), but his pre-Game 2 comments about refusing to be bullied sure sounded pretty boss. And if you want to talk about leading by example, Wallace has practiced what he preached, as Bobcats blog Queen City Hoops noted after last night's game; in two games, he's hurtled headlong into the lane to draw 18 foul calls, three more than hack-magnet Howard, including four whistles on the Orlando center tandem of Howard and Marcin Gortat(notes) in Game 2 alone. Dude's pouring on the pressure.

It's important to note all of this because, while the old adage holds that no playoff series starts until somebody loses at home, Charlotte looks to be in big, big trouble. They're down 2-0 coming home, and as KD noted in today's BtB, they're ruddy awful offensively. (Did I use that right? "Ruddy" is "Are You Being Served?" for "very," innit?) Unless the 'Cats can hit another level defensively, get more consistent offensive contributions from the likes of Felton and (God forbid) Boris Diaw(notes) or convince the officials to start awarding them two points for every time Tyrus Thomas(notes) flop-smirks, they may not be long for this season.

If that's so, it behooves us all to get with my man Robert Herrick and drink deeply of the pleasure of watching Gerald Wallace careen around a 94-foot wooden laboratory. Sadly, such pleasures are far too fleeting.

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