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He’ll be center of attention

Celtics will need Wallace to rise to the occasion

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 17, 2010

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LOS ANGELES — With Manny Ramirez making his return to Fenway Park this weekend, Boston fans are reminded how brilliant and talented yet flaky one man can be. Ramirez will be remembered in Boston not only for helping the Red Sox win two World Series titles in four years, but also for the unpredictable and apathetic behavior that littered his tenure here.

The parallels between Ramirez and Celtics forward Rasheed Wallace are plentiful. Both are players with immense skills who glided to success on physical prowess. And both will go down as players who never fully focused on being great, and therefore fell short.

A former NBA coach said recently that the two players who did less with great ability were Derrick Coleman and Wallace. Wallace’s career includes a championship ring and four All-Star appearances, but those who have watched him since his Philadelphia high school days expected more.

Not that he really cares, but Wallace’s legacy could be helped by a standout performance tonight in Game 7 against the Lakers. With Kendrick Perkins out with torn medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee, Wallace will start and be responsible for checking Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

A player who still marvels fans with his skills at age 35 has a chance to make one final statement. Wallace doesn’t care about any critics. He is at peace with himself and his place in the game. He has been good enough to play 15 years and earn more than $150 million, so if he’s a disappointment, at least he’s a rich one.

Yet there is a competitor inside Wallace. He does want to win. It may take a few encouraging or disparaging words from Kevin Garnett or a few embarrassing moments courtesy of Gasol, but Wallace will be ready. The Celtics’ quest for No. 18 and the fate of the Big Three could rest on his shoulders.

That’s an uncomfortable feeling for Boston fans, but one they will have to live with.

“Other guys have been in Game 7s, but it’s that know-how,’’ Wallace said yesterday before the Celtics hit the floor at Staples Center for their final practice of the season. “There are certain times where you know you can shoot crazy shots and certain times when you know when you can’t, certain plays you gotta do.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an up-and-down game like you’ve seen in the previous games but I think it will be more ball control. Every possession counts.’’

Wallace is the lone Celtic on this roster who has played in a Finals Game 7. In 2005, as a member of a Detroit Pistons team looking to repeat, Wallace scored 10 points and recorded just one rebound in an 81-74 loss to San Antonio. Playoff hero Robert Horry scored 15 points off the bench for the Spurs, some of those against Wallace’s defense.

Buf if you ask Wallace to provide some heart-wrenching memory about the pain of losing that game, the wait will be long.

“It doesn’t linger at all, that was five years ago,’’ he said. “I’m way past that already. I was actually past that the summer it happened.

“You can’t sit back and think about stuff like that or it will drive you crazy. All that shoulda, coulda, woulda . . . you sound like Brian McKnight, know what I mean?’’

Not exactly a comforting response for Celtics faithful looking for Wallace to say he’s determined to atone for his previous Game 7 failure. The ability to disregard the past has enabled Wallace to continue his career with little regrets and allowed him to flourish this postseason with little reflection on his subpar regular season.

Wallace sparked the Celtics in the playoffs with splendid defense on Orlando’s Dwight Howard and Gasol, while adding some timely 3-pointers. Like the rest of his teammates, Wallace struggled from the field in Game 6 Tuesday, missing all seven of his shots, six of which were 3-pointers.

He has shown the ability to produce when little is expected of him. He stymied Howard in stretches during the Eastern Conference finals and delivered 7 points and 7 rebounds against the Lakers in Game 2 at the Staples Center.

Tonight the Celtics are asking him to be far better than 7 and 7. They need vintage Rasheed Wallace. Although he has disregarded challenges in the past, Wallace has to view this as an opportunity to quiet those ready to vilify him for a poor effort.

For once, he needs to listen to those outside voices he has ignored for 15 years.

“I’m very happy at this moment that we have signed him, there’s no doubt about that, because we’re going to need him,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re going to need him big. His experience will help.

“And we’ll just see how many minutes he can go.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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