The Celtics were thrilled to get Chris Wilcox at the mini mid-level exception of $2.5 million and hoped the wildly inconsistent forward would respond when playing with a winning franchise. Wilcox has yet to play in the postseason during his nine-year NBA career.
The acquisition had yet to reap any benefits until about 10 days ago because Wilcox spent the first month banged up with a sprained left shoulder and left calf. Since being pressed back into the lineup during a comeback win against the Magic Jan. 26, Wilcox has been stellar as a backup forward-center.
In only 11 minutes yesterday at TD Garden, Wilcox scored 12 points and had five rebounds in the Celtics’ easier-than-expected 98-80 win over the Grizzlies. Wilcox is accomplishing exactly what the Celtics envisioned; he is playing strong post defense, picking off rebounds, and scoring around the basket.
In his last six games, Wilcox is averaging 6 points and 4.6 rebounds in just over 17 minutes as a backup to Jermaine O’Neal and Kevin Garnett. Yesterday, Wilcox ensured the Celtics gained an early lead with a 10-point first quarter.
“I just want to come out and play hard and bring energy,’’ he said. “It was definitely difficult but my body’s feeling better and I am able to get up and down the floor and make plays and get extra possessions.’’
When Wilcox was out because of the injuries, coach Doc Rivers used rookie Greg Stiemsma at center, and he made a splash, especially with blocks, but displayed some inexperience in key areas. Rivers now appears more comfortable with Wilcox and is expanding his role.
“Wilcox, in the last three games, he’s been absolutely off the charts,’’ Rivers said. “Terrific, with his energy. I mean, a lot of guys did a lot of good things vs. New York [Friday night], but I thought Wilcox was the reason we won that game. He’s just doing all the right things.’’
Tony Allen returned to Boston for the second time since signing a three-year deal with the Grizzlies when the Celtics only offered two. Allen was scheduled to start but was a late scratch with a sore knee and hip. He was replaced in the lineup by former Pittsburgh standout Sam Young.
Allen has emerged as a defensive player of the year candidate and has averaged 10.8 points per game and a career-best 81 percent from the line in his first full year of starting.
“I work hard every day,’’ Allen said. “When I come into a building, I look forward to competing. My will and my fight have been able to get me through a lot of this. That’s pretty much the key right there. I’m around a great group of talented guys. That’s just been my motivation.’’
The Grizzlies (12-12) started off slow after Zach Randolph tore his right medial collateral ligament, but won seven straight in January. Memphis has had to change its style with Marc Gasol as its lone legitimate post threat.
“Last year, we were an inside and outside team, we knew we were going through Zach Randolph, this year we go through Rudy Gay and we’re more of an up-tempo team,’’ said Allen, whose team leads the league in steals per game. “We’re just trying to adjust to that. I can adapt to any situation, honestly, just put me on the court, and we’ll see what happens.’’
Allen was vocal when the Grizzlies knocked off Boston last season in his first return.
“Yeah, I like coming here, but it’s emotional,’’ he said. “My résumé, when I left here, was winning, and I’ve got that still going. I learned a lot from these guys and I respect them.’’
Bruise for O’Neal
O’Neal said an MRI on his right knee revealed only a bone bruise. O’Neal said he injured the knee making a quick jump stop Friday night. O’Neal said his left knee bone bruise has healed . . . Rivers said he doesn’t like playing noon games at home. Yesterday was the earliest start of the season. The Celtics have a 1 p.m. home start March 4 against the Knicks . . . JaJuan Johnson played a career-high 22 minutes in place of Brandon Bass, who sat with a sore left knee, while it appears E’Twaun Moore may be the victim of Rajon Rondo’s return. Moore played 3:35 after a DNP-coach’s decision Friday night . . . The combination of Gasol and Marreese Speights combined for 11 points on 5-for-24 shooting and just 10 rebounds. They entered averaging 22.3 points and nearly 16 rebounds . . . The Celtics’ Marquis Daniels missed his second consecutive game with a sprained ankle.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.