Wizards 85, Celtics 83
The second half of the Wizards season couldn’t have started in more exact opposite fashion of how the first half ended.
One night after a crisp, high-energy first quarter unraveled over the next three into a depressing, lackluster, and ugly loss to Phoenix, Washington started against Eastern Conference-leading Boston the same way they had finished with the Suns and found themselves on the ropes almost immediately. But instead of hitting the mat, the Wizards summoned the heart, defense and good fortune to fight back and pull off a remarkable 85-83 victory in front of a green-heavy sellout crowd that made Verizon Center feel like the site of Washington’s long-awaited first road win.
“We played like soldiers tonight,” said Nick Young. “We was fighting. It felt like it was a road game. We seen all kind of green and four-leaf clovers, It was a sign of disrespect.”
John Wall (16 points, six rebounds, four assists), who gave the Wizards (13-29) their first lead, 81-79, with driving layup with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter, knocked down a bank shot heave, Washington’s first 3-pointer of the night, to put the contest out of reach with 57.7 seconds remaining.
“I didn’t call it, but I knew it was going to hit the backboard,” said Wall, “I thought it was going to be hard brick. It could’ve broken the backboard, but luckily it went in.”
A foul-plagued Paul Pierce (12 points, eight rebounds) missed a potential game-winning 17-footer in the final second from his signature spot just beyond the elbow, but the Celtics (33-10) were undone for the first time in six games by a dreadful second half in which they managed just 27 points, eight less than the 35 they’d put up with ease in the first quarter.
After Wall had pulled Washington to within one, 77-76, with 8:42 left, Boston missed eight straight shots over the next 4 minutes, 18 seconds, the most egregious of which was Ray Allen’s seemingly wide-open dunk at the 6:52 mark. A lurking JaVale McGee (16 points, six rebounds, three blocks), who may have made Allen (16 points) think twice, later rejected Glen Davis’s bid for a slam before a scoop layup by Rajon Rondo (13 points, nine assists) gave Boston its last, brief advantage, 79-77.
Andray Blatche (11 points, five rebounds, three assists) restored a 79-79 tie with his own driving dunk for a fitting exclamation point on his rugged, physical, jaw-filled battle with Kevin Garnett (17 points) that didn’t look promising when he picked up a technical foul in the second quarter for an after-the-whistle push.
Blatche turned the tables when he poked the ball away from Garnett and drew a charge on Rondo during a game-changing third period.
“He played with passion,” said Wizards head coach Flip Saunders. “That’s how he has to play, with that type of passion every time because when he plays with passion, he doesn’t settle.”
Neither did the Wizards despite getting no offensive help from Young, who was 1 for 13 from the field, and falling behind, 24-11, in less than seven minutes as Boston shot better than 68 percent in the first quarter.
That was the score when backup point guard Mustafa Shakur entered the game for Wall, making his NBA debut just a few hours after arriving in Washington as an emergency 10-day call-up from the NBA Developmental League to replace Kirk Hinrich, who missed the game with a sprained right elbow.
“My feeling was it’s only a few points,” said Shakur. “We have scorers and guys that can drive it and make plays. My feeling is hey, we’re only down a few buckets. Let’s get three or four stops and a few baskets and we’re right in there.”
Even though Shakur barely knew the plays and was wearing a hastily put-together No. 22 jersey with poorly placed letters and numbers – “I think they tried to put my zip code on there,” said Shakur – he immediately fed Rashard Lewis (18 points, 11 rebounds) and was involved Washington’s final nine points of the first quarter en route to an efficient five points and five assists in only ten minutes on the floor.
Boston’s 16-point was reduced to ten by halftime, and as it diminished even further in the second half, so too did the “Let’s go Celtics!” chants that had been so prominent early.
“I hope it means a win on Monday [at New York] to help us get that monkey off our back, I hope that’s one thing it does mean,” said Saunders of the victory. “We’ve got to play with the same passion, the same defensive intensity on the road that we play with at home. I think tonight, they should give us a road game because there were more Boston people here than Washington. We’re 1-20 on the road. We’ll take that as a road win.”