Wallace helps Pistons fend off Wizards
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Ben Wallace is in the twilight of his career.
That doesn't mean he's ready to accept the darkness.
"I'm going to retire, but I'm never going to quit," Wallace said after Thursday's 99-94 victory over the Washington Wizards. "I want to be on the floor for every second I can until it's over."
Wallace used to be known for his giant Afro, but now that his hair has gone gray, he wears it closely cropped. Otherwise, you might never realize that he's aged at all since first joining the Pistons 11 years ago.
Against the Wizards, the 37-year-old played 27 minutes, including the final 18. He didn't take a single shot, but his defensive presence helped Detroit keep John Wall from leading the Wizards to a come-from-behind victory.
"You look at Body and you realize how much defense can change a basketball game," Lawrence Frank said. "John Wall got into the paint 28 times, and that accounted for a huge percentage of their points. We put the second unit out there in the third quarter, and they changed the game. Body was at the center of that — he was phenomenal tonight."
Wallace didn't take any jumpers, but he did score five crucial points late in the game. The Wizards had cut a 20-point lead down to 93-86, and decided to start intentionally fouling Wallace.
At the best of times, Wallace is one of the worst free-throw shooters in NBA history, and his final season has been a disaster from the line. When Randy Wittman told his players to start fouling him, he had missed all four attempts in the game and was shooting a barely believable 26 percent on the season.
The Wizards fouled him three times in a span of 16 seconds, and Wallace calmly hit five of the six free throws. That drew a roar from the crowd, grins from the Pistons and even a wry smile from Wittman.
"I only seem to make them when teams make me make them," he said. "My wife texted me after the game and says that she hates when teams do that to me, but I always tell her that it is a challenge, and I have to step up."
Wallace isn't backing off his decision to retire at the end of the season, and Frank thinks too much of him to try to change his mind.
"I respect Ben, so I respect his decision," Frank said. "He's a total marvel, though. That man is a true testament to professionalism and hard work, and I hope our players soak up his lessons before he's gone."
While Frank might not be willing to talk Wallace out of retiring, his teammates don't feel the same way.
"I keep telling him not to do it," Will Bynum said. "There's no reason he can't play two or three more years, because he works harder than anyone I've ever met. He's the first guy in the gym every day, and he's the last guy out of the gym every day. He could play until he's 40, because he's in the shape of a 30-year-old right now."
Jonas Jerebko, who plays on Detroit's second unit with Wallace every night, is just as inspired by his teammate's dedication.
"He's a living legend, and I'm just thrilled that I've gotten to play on his team," Jerebko said. "He just keeps going, and it is great to be a part of it."
Wallace hasn't lost his basketball intelligence, either. With six minutes to play, and the Wizards making their comeback, he collided with Washington center Kevin Seraphin. Wallace went down like he had been shot, and the officials quickly handed Seraphin his sixth foul.
That turned out to be a crucial moment in the game, as Washington was already missing post players Nene and Trevor Booker.
"We were down two big men as it was, so Kevin was our only legitimate center, and then we lose him," Wittman said. "We lost our physicality on defense, and we lost any ability to get points out of the post."
The old man didn't take a shot Thursday, but he did all the little things that have made him a unique figure in the 21st-century NBA.
And he's still got 12 games left.
"I'm like an old muscle car — as long as you take care of them, they get better and better with age," he said. "I'm going to ride this until the end."