Like everyone else in the Garden, Doc Rivers was searching for a solution. He turned to Chris Wilcox and gave him simple instructions. "Weezy," he said. "We need you to bring energy."
"So," Wilcox said. "I just went out there and played hard and great things happened."
He played less than four minutes, but he scored four points and grabbed five rebounds in a 100-94 overtime victory. More importantly what had been a tie game against the Wizards on Wednesday became an eight-point lead. Make no mistake, these were crucial minutes because the Celtics have a problem. It's the same problem they had last year and after an offseason renovation that featured 10 new players, it's a little disconcerting that it still exists. The problem is that when Kevin Garnett is out of the game, they become very suspect.
They started fast and then when Garnett came out of the game as he always does after five minutes of play, their offense sputtered and their defense melted down. At times it seemed they were fighting themselves as much as they were battling Kevin Seraphin. Garnett checked out of the game again in the third quarter with the Celtics down two and all through the Garden there was an uneasy buzz. This is happening again? Enter Wilcox.
"I thought Chris Wilcox saved the game for us, singlehandedly, with his effort," Rivers said. "And I thought it was obvious. He didn't do anything but play hard and play with great effort. And I thought that leadership led everybody else into doing it. Kevin always, I always exclude him because he always plays the right way, but we've got to get more guys that play harder, better."
By now everyone is familiar with Jeff Green's return from an aortic aneurysm, but Wilcox's journey back is just as dramatic and moving. The Celtics were on their way out West last March for a crucial road trip when they got word that something was wrong. Wilcox had gone for routine tests and doctors found the worst. They have been through so much injury turmoil over the years, but this was almost too much to take.
"It's scary," Rivers said at the time. "It really is. The chances of having one of these in a year is pretty minute. The chances of having two is, like, impossible."
They patched it together as they often do, but Wilcox was never far from their thoughts. He came back for another season, signing for the veteran minimum and he never seriously considered going anywhere else.
"For he and Jeff, knowing their story, knowing their journey, it's inspirational to be honest with everybody here," Garnett said. "To see someone still get a chance at doing something they love and do it passionately. It's moving and I'm just glad he had a great night. He was able to help us and I thought he turned the game around."
Making his impact all the more remarkable is that he didn't play at all during the preseason and saw action in only 10 minutes in their first three games, but Wilcox stayed positive.
"If you stay ready, you ain't got to get ready," he said. "That's what my mind's on and that's what I go by, so I just go and work out hard and do what I got to do. So, when my number is called I'll be right in the rotation."
Frankly, the Celtics need him to get right back in the rotation. They've tried to get by with smaller lineups featuring a combination of Green, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger but they've been eaten up defensively. For whatever offense those three bring, it just wasn't working without Garnett on the court to protect the backline and Garnett can only play so much. They've tried Darko Milicic but he's been ineffective and Jason Collins hasn't seen the court yet this season.
They are very much a work in progress and at times it's been brutal to watch. Versatility is great, but Rivers has searched long and hard for the right combinations so far this season. Garnett, as he usually does, made an oddly hilarious allusion, but beneath the joke was a simple message: This will take time.