Wilcox: Hero of the game
February, 4, 2012
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- Celtics reserve big man Chris Wilcox could laugh about it in hindsight, but after five forgettable, fumble-filled, first-half minutes against the New York Knicks on Friday, he did wonder if he'd even get a chance to get back on the floor and redeem himself.
Wilcox couldn't get out his own way at the start of Friday's game, missing the only shot he took and seemingly bumbling around the court. Celtics coach Doc Rivers came over with some encouraging, but firm advice after his first stint on the floor.
"He had his head down and all I told him was, ‘We play forward, alright?’" relayed Rivers. "I said, ‘You can’t get any of those back.’ And I thought he -- Paul [Pierce], obviously -- but I thought Chris Wilcox was the hero."
Wilcox's stat line won't inspire too much confidence -- 1-of-4 shooting, 6 points, 4 rebounds, assist, turnover -- but his play sure will. All four of those rebounds came on the offensive glass, where he appropriated his energy in the second half, helping to aid Boston's rally from a 12-point deficit to drop the Knicks, 91-89, at TD Garden.
"I think it was more mental; I couldn’t even grab the ball," said Wilcox. "Every time I grabbed it [in the first half], it was slipping out of my hands. I just had to sit down, like, 'Just give me a second. Breath.' And then I came out and played hard."
Wilcox's finest moment came as part of a hustle sequence that showed just how badly Boston wanted this game. After the Celtics made it a two-point game early in the fourth quarter, Pierce missed a long jumper and the rebound bounced all the way back out past midcourt. Pierce won a footrace for the ball, giving the team a second opportunity, but Brandon Bass missed a bunny. A Knicks defender seemingly had the rebound secured, but Wilcox instead essentially ripped it away from him before going up strong and getting fouled.
Wilcox made both of the free throws to tie the game at 77 with 7:43 to go. He assisted on a Bass jumper 86 seconds later and the Celtics led the rest of the way.
"I’m definitely happy [with his second-half effort], because with my first half, I might not be playing the next game," said Wilcox. "I found a way to grind it out. I just came out, played hard, and good things happened."
Wilcox laughed as he described his bench role as running around like a chicken with his head cut off. It's clear he thrives off energy. And Friday might have been a great example of what he's capable of when he doesn't worry about his stat line (or his health).
After a sluggish (and injury-plagued) start to his tenure in Boston, Wilcox is coming on strong, cementing his role as a key big man off the bench. Over his last five games, Wilcox is averaging 4.8 points and 4.4 rebounds over 18.2 minutes per game. That might not sound like much from a player who has averaged 8.7 points and 5.1 rebounds over 20.5 minutes per game over a 10-year career.
But Wilcox, who signed with Boston at the taxpayer's mid-level exception ($3 million) this offseason, knows his role is different here. And the only stat that matters is the win column.
"At the end of the day, man, I'm out here and all I want to do is win," said Wilcox. "I haven't been to the playoffs yet, so I'm grinding right now. I gotta get there."
His efforts Friday night aided the cause. The Celtics likely don't win that game if he doesn't crank up his own intensity. And if he continues to play with that sort of energy and insatiable desire, the Celtics have an excellent shot of not only getting him to the postseason, but hanging around for a bit.