At no point during the 2013-14 NBA season have the Washington Wizards had more wins than losses, but as they entered Wednesday night's play with a 20-20 record, they had to feel pretty good about their chances of nudging north of the .500 mark for the first time. After all, they were welcoming a Boston Celtics team that they'd beaten at home a month earlier; that had lost three straight games, 11 of its last 12, 15 of its last 17 and 10 in a row on the road; that was on the second night of a road back-to-back after a Tuesday loss to the Miami Heat; and that was coming into the game depleted in the backcourt, with recently returned point guard Rajon Rondo getting the night off, starting shooting guard Avery Bradley sidelined by an ankle sprain, recently acquired reserve Jerryd Bayless out with a sprained big toe, and disgruntled (though well-paid) veteran guard Keith Bogans at home awaiting further instructions.
Losing a game like that would be disappointing. Losing a game like that after coming back from a huge deficit to force overtime would be gutwrenching. But losing a game like that after forcing OT on a play like this?
Now that's a real bummer.
With the score tied at 111 after a split pair of free throws by Wizards center Marcin Gortat and 9.8 seconds left in the extra session, the Celtics inbounded to swingman Gerald Wallace. Martell Webster picked him up in the backcourt. Wallace crossed the timeline, veered right, beat Webster off the bounce, got within two feet of the basket and lofted in a layup over Gortat's outstretched arm for a two-point lead. It was all so staggeringly simple.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens is earning praise for his coaching acumen in his first year on the job, but this wasn't a matter of especially clever design. I mean, Boston ensured proper offensive spacing by having recent D-League call-up Chris Johnson and Brandon Bass stationed in the corners to occupy defenders, and sure, it was nice to have Jeff Green curl to the left wing after hitting the foul line, drawing Trevor Ariza away from the right side to give Wallace room to drive. And yes, it was nice work by Jared Sullinger to hold his position in the paint, using his strength and low center of gravity to keep Gortat from getting around him and being able to more effectively contest the shot. Other things happened, and they mattered.
At base, though, this was Wallace being allowed to dribble — without having to change direction, virtually unmolested — down the entire length of the court and take a layup with his strong hand. The dry-erase board mockup would just be one long arrow pointed at the rim. And it worked, basically, because the Wizards let it. That's kind of amazing, and when John Wall's pull-up 3-point attempt went awry on the other end, it became very game-winning, if not altogether thrilling.
That the Celtics came away with the win thanks in part to a shrug-worthy moment of Wizardry seems fitting on a night where the favored Wiz opened the proceedings missing seven of their first 11 shots while defending without much purpose, allowing Boston to open up a double-digit lead by the 5:50 mark of the first quarter. The Celtic ballooned to 19 late in the second quarter behind a hail of makes from Green and undrafted rookie point guard Phil Pressey (33 total first-half points, 8 for 13 from 3-point land combined) and an array of Washington cough-ups (nine turnovers leading to 15 Boston points). Sloppiness and lethargy got Randy Wittman's team into this mess, and despite a frantic second-half surge that saw Wall (15 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals in the third and fourth), Bradley Beal (10 points) and Ariza (nine points, 3 for 3 from 3) get their offense going, sloppiness and lethargy eventually came back to bite them in the end.
That's not, however, to discredit the Celtics, who got dynamite performances from Green (a season-high 39 points on 14 for 26 shooting, including 8 for 16 from 3-point range, with the biggest coming on a bananas falling-out-of-bounds game-tying try late in the fourth quarter) and Pressey (a career-high 20 points on 7 for 10 shooting and 5 for 6 from deep) to match the Wizards' firepower. Sullinger added 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Wallace did a little bit of everything — nine points, nine assists, six rebounds, four steals and a block — before putting Washington to bed. His job was made easier by the fact that the Wiz kind of already seemed to be asleep.
Wall posted his second career triple-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, but missed 20 of 29 field-goal attempts and turned the ball over four times in the loss, too. The Wizards are now 0-5 in games in which they have the chance to get above .500; if they kick off their upcoming road trip with a win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday, they'll earn chance No. 6 on Saturday against the Utah Jazz.
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