You'd be forgiven if you weren't glued to the flatscreen for Sunday's square-off between the New Jersey Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers. The two teams are a combined 39-73, playing for little beyond ping-pong balls at this stage of the season; must-see Cavs rookie point guard Kyrie Irving sat out the game with a shoulder sprain; and down the dial, Bubba Watson was in the process of making history. All told, there didn't seem to be very many reasons to tune in for the 6 p.m. Eastern tip.
In the second quarter, though, New Jersey's Gerald Wallace rewarded League Pass true believers with a monster offensive rebound and follow dunk over Cavaliers forward Antawn Jamison. Based on the way he came down, though, we kind of wish he hadn't.
As Nets color commentator Mike Fratello notes in the clip above, Wallace — seemingly miles away as he crashes the boards from the weak side, then rises above Jamison and gets up over the box to return the miss — comes down from a pretty obscene height with all of his weight landing on his left leg, then immediately crumples to the deck. He left the game right afterward, ending his day with seven points, three rebounds, two steals, an assist and one strained left hamstring in 17 minutes of floor time. There's no definitive word just yet on the severity of Wallace's injury — he's listed as questionable for the Nets' Tuesday night game against the Philadelphia 76ers — and we're certainly hopeful that it's just a minor strain that won't hamper him much. But it sure didn't look too good.
The injury opened the door for Nets reserve Gerald Green to log the most NBA playing time he's seen in nearly five years, and the former D-Leaguer took advantage, scoring a season-high 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting in nearly 38 minutes off the bench to lead New Jersey to a 122-117 overtime win. For Nets fans and NBA appreciators, though, the bigger story is Wallace's injury.
The play typified the kind of reckless abandon that earned Wallace the nickname "Crash" and has made him a fan favorite everywhere he's played during his 11-year NBA career — giving maximum effort, even in a game of minimal consequence; providing sudden, stunning bursts of athleticism; attacking the boards more like a ravenous power forward than a 6-foot-7 swingman; going after the ball at 110 miles per hour without fear for his own safety. Guys like Wallace are a pleasure to watch and support, which makes their successes so enjoyable and injuries like the one he sustained Sunday so enervating.
That's especially true for Nets fans, who've watched Wallace — averaging 14.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game in 13 contests since coming to New Jersey from the Portland Trail Blazers in a trade-deadline deal — contribute to the team's best run of the season, winning five of its last seven and six of nine since March 24. (Which actually could hurt the Nets in the long run, since the protected 2012 first-round draft pick that Nets general manager Billy King sent to Portland along with Mehmet Okur's expiring contract and Shawne Williams only stays with New Jersey if it falls within the first three selections, and more wins means fewer ping-pong balls and a lower likelihood of landing a top-3 lottery pick.)
In a year that has seen the Nets come up short in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, watch foot and ankle injuries limit starting center Brook Lopez to just five games, lose rotation players Jordan Farmar and Damion James to season-ending injuries, drop more than 63 percent of their games, trade away a barely protected lottery pick in a deep NBA draft and fail to lock down All-Star point guard Deron Williams despite letting him play "assistant GM," Nets fans have had precious few reasons to cheer for a team that's leaving skidmarks on its way out of the Garden State. On Sunday, Gerald Wallace gave them something to be amped about; in the blink of an eye, like most everything else this year, it turned sour. If it wasn't for bad luck, it seems, Avery Johnson's team would have no luck at all.
Is the clip above not working for you? Please feel free to watch the slam and injury elsewhere, thanks to our friends at The Hoop Scene.