After watching the Wizards spend practically all game at the free-throw line, the Celtics won the game by making all 17 of their free throws in the fourth quarter—including 13 in a row after the Wizards took a 96-95 lead with 5:35 remaining.
Boston finished with seven players in double figures, including rookie Delonte West, who scored 15 in his fifth career start in a lineup shakeup by coach Doc Rivers. The Celtics had lost five of six and were playing their second consecutive game without Antoine Walker, but the victory moved them 3 1/2 games ahead of idle Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Gilbert Arenas made 21 free throws on 25 attempts—both career highs—and tied his career-high with 43 points for Washington. Antawn Jamison, activated from the injured list earlier in the day, returned after an 11-game absence due to a sore knee and scored 30 points—including 16 straight Wizards points in the third quarter.
Larry Hughes, nursing a sprained elbow, made just 3 of 16 shots and scored nine points for the Wizards, who shot 38 percent and got only eight points from their reserves.
The Wizards have lost two straight to follow a four-game winning streak and have lost ground to Chicago in their battle for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Wizards opened the fourth quarter with a 14-4 run to take their first lead of the game, 92-91, with 7:37 to play. Michael Ruffin started the run with a dunk after stealing the inbounds pass following a made basket. He then made another to set up two free throws by Arenas, then scored on a layup on a feed from Jamison.
But the Wizards went cold again, making just three field goals for the rest of the game. The seven Celtics who scored in double figures—Pierce, LaFrentz, West, Gary Payton (14), Ricky Davis (13), Al Jefferson (12) and Mark Blount (10)—all scored in the final five minutes in a balanced finishing act.
Walker, another sure candidate for double digits when he’s playing, has a deep knee bruise. Coach Doc Rivers said Walker could return for Saturday’s game at New Jersey.
Rivers started Kendrick Perkins and West in place of Blount and Tony Allen. The switch paid dividends immediately: Perkins and West scored Boston’s first six points for a 6-1 lead before Perkins sat down with two quick fouls. Perkins played only eight minutes because of foul trouble.
Boston kept the momentum and led 17-6 after 4 1/2 minutes and 33-19 at the end of the first quarter, with Pierce scoring 13 points in the period. The lead was 16 in the second quarter and early in the third, but Jamison scored 16 straight Wizards points, including four 3-pointers, to single-handedly get his team back in the game.
The Celtics won the season series 3-1. … The Wizards had no scoring off the bench until Ruffin’s dunk with 1:37 to play in the third quarter. Reserve Kwame Brown heard a chorus of boos during a sequence in which he missed two free throws, got called for defensive 3 seconds and fumbled a sure layup out of bounds. Ruffin later left the game with a scratch eyelid. … Jefferson fouled out after playing just 19 minutes. … Boston is 8-0 when seven players score in double figures. … The Wizards failed again to get their 42nd win, which would clinch their first winning season since 1997-98.