Gerald Wallace Returns but Tornike Shengelia Gives Nets Unexpected Boost

Moke Hamilton , NBA Analyst

NEW YORK — Over the course of the last five years, Nets fans have become used to meaningless games being played in April. Tuesday night’s 106-101 victory over the Washington Wizards was just another one of those meaningless games, but for a much different reason.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE

The Nets entered play on Tuesday night, with a 47-33 record and locked in as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. The team is set to host either the Chicago Bulls or Atlanta Hawks once the playoffs begin, so nothing is at stake over the season’s final two games.

As a result, P.J. Carlesimo—wanting his team healthy for what he hopes will be a deep payoff run—gave four of his starters the night off. Brook Lopez, Reggie Evans, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams all sat. The only noteworthy occurrence from the 81st game of Brooklyn’s inaugural season was the return of Gerald Wallace.

Well, that and the fight that the Nets reserve unit showed.

Wallace has battled a myriad of health issues all season long, the most recent of which was a leg contusion that kept him out of action for the Nets previous two games. But even prior to sustaining the latest injury, Wallace has been in a terrible shooting slump, converting just 40 of the 118 shot attempts he has taken since March 1.

Wallace entered play on Monday night shooting just 39.8 percent from the field on the season, and the 40-of-118 is even worse—33.8 percent.

As poorly as he has been playing on the offensive side of the ball, Wallace is still the Nets top perimeter defender and figures to be an important part of whatever playoff success the club has. Carlesimo played Wallace on Monday to give the veteran the opportunity to get back into a rhythm before the playoffs begin.

After his two game absence, Wallace played 22 minutes, shooting just 1-of-3 from the field en route to scoring just two points. He failed to attempt a shot in the first half (in which he played about 15 minutes). He seemed to play at half speed while he was on the floor, but that is not particularly noteworthy since the Nets were, after all, playing a meaningless game.

Overall, Carlesimo was happy with his effort.

“I thought he looked good,” the coach said. “The whole point was to get him out there and get him some cardio work and make sure his foot is alright and hopefully, he comes out of it well tomorrow so we can play him some more minutes on Wednesday. It’s exactly what [we] wanted and we were pleased.”

Wallace did not speak with the media after the effort, but one man that did a lot of talking was Tornike Shengelia.

He led the platoon of Nets reserves that showed some serious heart. After trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half, the Nets were led by Andray Blatche and Kris Humphries, who each scored 20 points. Blatche added 12 rebounds and Humphries had nine.

But it was Shengelia who stole the show down the stretch. Shengelia gave the Nets their first lead of the game with less than five minutes, converting a driving layup. The Wizards responded and made the Nets fight for it, but the lineup featuring Tyshawn Taylor, Mirza Teletovic, Kris Joseph, Shengelia and Blatche were up to the task.

Andray Blatche 2Shengelia was especially productive down the stretch. After scoring the go-ahead basket, he outhustled the Wizards to loose balls and ignited Barclays with a thunderous block on a John Wall drive with less than four minutes remaining in the contest.

“Toko, the first thing you’re always gonna say about him is that he competes,” Carlesimo said afterward. “He plays so hard, he makes things happen defensively, rebounds, and he just does good things. It’s great… That coast to coast was a big play and he competed.”

Blatche converted a key layup, plus the foul in the game’s final minute and Taylor iced it with a deep 3-pointer in the game’s final 30 seconds.

Wallace did not appear in the fourth quarter, and the Nets closed the game out with a lineup featuring four players who do not figure to be a part of the playoff rotation.

Even still, Carlesimo was happy with his club’s effort. “It’s really good that some guys got to play that don’t normally play and some guys who got their minutes extended contributed a lot,” he said. “They played hard, they just plugging and plugging and they did a really good job. At times, their defense was lousy but they also got some big stops in the fourth quarter.”

“Toko definitely took advantage of it,” Andray Blatche said of his opportunity to get extended minutes. “It’s all about opportunity. Tonight, they have the opportunity to go out and prove themselves and a lot of the young guys, they’ve proved themselves, they’ve proved that they belong in this league.”

Afterward, Shengelia did not seem surprised about his productive minutes. “Every time I get a playing opportunity, whether it’s the D-League or up here, it always help me, it helps everybody to do your stuff and get better,” he said after being asked if his D-League stints helped him to say ready. “I was prepared to play and every time I get the opportunity, I give it 100 percent.”

“You always have to stay ready,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how long you play because you never know when they’re gonna call your name, especially when you’re a rookie, you don’t have many second chances. When you get one, you gotta get it, you know?”

Yes, we know. Shengelia seized his opportunity tonight, and even if he does not play meaningful minutes in the playoffs, he may have just given Nets fans something to look forward to next season.

On Wednesday night, the Nets expect to have their full lineup available, though afterward, Carlesimo said that he expects his starters will play “preseason minutes.”

But after that, this weekend, for the first time since 2006, the Nets starters will play postseason minutes.