WASHINGTON (AP)—Not only did the Washington Wizards finally beat a team with a winning record, they beat the team with the best record.
Their reward? Not much of one. They’ve got to try to do the same thing again on Monday.
Still, for one sloppy but exciting night, the Wizards did what few others have done this season. They beat the Boston Celtics, closing the game with a 15-4 run Saturday night for an 85-78 victory.
“There was no time for soft hearts, or people who just couldn’t stand it,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. “It was tough at every level—mentally, physically, emotionally.”
The Wizards rallied from a seven-point, fourth-quarter deficit to hand the Celtics their second loss in three games and only their fifth defeat of the season. Unfortunately for Washington, the game will very much be fresh in everyone’s mind when the teams meet again in Boston on Monday—if the trash-talking on the court is any indication.
“It’s going to be a big game,” Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson said. “We were talking back and forth, so they’re going to be ready.”
The victory broke a pattern for the Wizards, who had been beating the bottom teams and losing to the top ones. Washington hadn’t defeated a team with a winning record since Dec. 1, a byproduct of the knee injury that has sidelined point guard Gilbert Arenas for much of the season.
“We’ve had some problems against some of the better teams in the league because that’s when he normally takes over for us—down the stretch,” Washington center Brendan Haywood said. “But guys are getting more and more accustomed to their roles and we’re getting better as a cohesive unit.”
The Celtics were also without their point guard. Rajon Rondo sat out with a sore lower back after it acted up in Friday night’s win over New Jersey. Tony Allen started in place of Rondo and finished with four steals, four turnovers and no assists.
But it wasn’t just Allen who had an off night. Both teams showed the aftereffects of tough games the night before. Boston finished with 21 turnovers and its lowest point total of the year. The Wizards had 20 turnovers and made only 2 of 18 3-pointers, but they outrebounded the Celtics 49-30, made 27 of 30 free throws and had the fortitude when it mattered—in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Washington deserved it,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “It was a scrum—that’s what it looked like. It was more like rugby for the most part. Every loose ball, every long rebound they got.”
The Celtics had their 10-game road winning streak snapped, and the loss came only three days after a home loss to Charlotte. Boston’s last road loss was Nov. 27 at Cleveland in overtime.
Kevin Garnett, who led the Celtics with 19 points, said his team was feeling the effects of winning too easily early in the season. Boston had been outscoring opponents by 12.1 points entering the game.
“We spoiled ourselves a little bit,” Garnett said.
The momentum had swung Washington’s way when Antonio Daniels made a 3-pointer with 1:51 remaining to give the Wizards a 75-74 lead. Then Haywood forced the Celtics’ 20th turnover at the other end by taking the ball away from Garnett. Stevenson took advantage by drawing a foul while attempting a 3-pointer as the shot clock was about to expire—and making all three free throws to give Washington a four-point lead.
The Wizards were weary from an overtime victory at Atlanta on Friday, and the Celtics were less than 24 hours removed from a fourth-quarter, come-from-behind win over the Nets. The quick turnaround took its toll in careless ball-handling and in tired legs that weren’t quite able to put enough oomph into the jumpers. For every good play, there seemed to be a bad one—such as when Jamison stole the ball from Ray Allen but missed the subsequent layup on the fast break.
The Celtics committed six first-quarter turnovers, and the Wizards shot 32 percent in the period. To make it worse for Washington, many in the sellout crowd rooted for the visiting team by chanting “Let’s Go Celtics.”
One thing is for certain, the crowd will be much tougher on Monday. And the Celtics will be ready.
“I thought we could have executed a little better. We rushed a lot of shots. We didn’t have the click that we usually have,” Garnett said. “We’ll make an adjustment come Monday.”
Rondo said he will have his back examined by a doctor on Sunday. “It was just wearing on me,” Rondo said. “It started to catch up on me.” It was the second game Rondo has missed this season. … Rivers watched two games at the Verizon Center on Saturday. He arrived early to watch his son, Jeremiah Rivers, play for Georgetown in the Hoyas’ 72-69 victory over Connecticut. “It’s rare that you actually get to watch a game and then go play a game. It kind of gave me something to do in the mid-afternoon,” Doc Rivers said. “As a parent, being a spectator isn’t the easiest thing.”