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Monday, November 11, 2013
Updated: November 12, 8:47 AM ET
New roles have Celtics rolling

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics put together what may ultimately be one of their best offensive efforts of the 2013-14 season on Monday night. Boston shot 60 percent from the field, put seven players in double figures, and left the scoreboard operator begging for a break during a 120-105 triumph over the Orlando Magic at TD Garden.

But allow us to spotlight the guy who missed the only shot he took, missed half his free throws, and contributed a measly one point to the effort.

Gerald Wallace
Although his scoring is down, Gerald Wallace is contributing to the Celtics in many other ways.

Gerald Wallace chipped in five assists, three steals and two assists over 19 minutes, 25 seconds, but the number that really leaps off the page from his stat line is the team-best plus-20 in plus/minus.

As Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted after the game, "Well, plus-20 is the only points I care about. That tells you what I think of him."

You'll read plenty about Jordan Crawford, and with good reason after he put up 16 points and 10 assists and was plus-15 in Monday's win. Many will note that Boston's first unit has thrived since Crawford's insertion into the starting lineup at the start of the Celtics' four-game winning streak (and that's not in question).

But take a minute to consider the trickle-down effect of Crawford's elevation. The swap moved 13th-year veteran Wallace to a bench role, where he has likewise flourished as part of Boston's high-energy reserve squad.

The struggles endured by Boston's second unit were a big reason for the team's 0-4 start. Now, Wallace's presence is giving the Celtics a sustained second-unit attack.

Consider this: During this four-game winning streak, Boston's best on-court defensive rating is owned by Wallace. The team is allowing a mere 94.5 points per 100 possessions with Wallace on the floor during that span (well below the overall team average of 100.1).

Combine that with an offensive rating of 105.5, and Boston's net rating is plus-11 points per 100 possessions when Wallace is on the floor. Among the team's top rotation players, only Jared Sullinger (plus-12.8) has been better. That pair has often shared the floor in sub units.

Wallace admitted he was skeptical about being shuffled to a reserve role last week. But he couldn't be happier with the results. Wallace is finding ways to impact the game in shorter bursts, even if some will judge him solely by his point output.

"[Wallace has] been nothing but an absolute energizer off the bench," Stevens said. "I think that we talked about this at the end of the day -- with Jared's ability to score off the bench, with Courtney [Lee's] ability to score off the bench and with Phil [Pressey's] and Gerald's ability to kind of change the complexion of the game when it's not going your way, that's pretty good stuff off the bench. Hopefully we can continue taking advantage of that."

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The Celtics wouldn't have won Saturday in Miami without Wallace's perfect inbounds pass to set up Jeff Green's buzzer-beating 3-pointer. It's fair to wonder if the second unit would be enjoying the same success without Wallace spearheading the young group.

After Monday's game, Wallace was told that the streaking Celtics had moved into a tie for first place in the Atlantic Division. What's more, it was noted that the Brooklyn Nets -- his former squad -- were at the bottom of the division.

"That doesn't mean nothing to me," Wallace said, trying to choke back a telling smile. "Where are we at in the Eastern Conference? That's more important to me. I'm not worried about the division."

The Celtics sit as the fourth seed in the East.

"Our main thing is we're going to improve," Wallace said. "We know we could easily be … 0-8, or we could be 8-0. There's some games we gave away that we lost. The main thing we want to take is, we kind of felt like we gave the first four games away, but they were a learning experience for us, and we've gotten better and better. We only intend to keep getting better and better. That's the main thing we want to do is keeping improving as a team."

The Wallace-Crawford flip-flop has gone a long way toward helping Boston find both its best starting group and a bench spark. Wallace might not be putting up gaudy numbers (outside of plus/minus), but the only number that matters to him is the growing total in the win column.

"Winning makes everything a lot better," Wallace said. "Guys are just more intense on a winning team than a losing team, and guys understand that now."