WASHINGTON -- Boston, breathe easier. The Celtics are no longer among the NBA's winless thanks to their big stars and stingy late-game defense, though their first victory of the young season was hardly a breeze.
Paul Pierce scored 27 points, Rajon Rondo had 12 points and 12 assists and the Celtics finally found their way to victory by outlasting the Washington Wizards 89-86 on Saturday night.
Kevin Garnett finished with 15 points for the Celtics (1-2), who avoided a second straight 0-3 start to the season. Several times Boston appeared in control with double-digit leads, including opening the game with a 17-2 spurt and holding a 10-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter.
The undermanned Wizards clawed back and took a lead in the closing minutes before Pierce drained a clutch 3-pointer and Boston's defense shut out Washington on its final four possessions.
"I thought we came out with great defensive energy," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "As the game went on we got tired; defense is exhausting. I thought overall we did a great job of it. ... We had to get stops at the end, four straight times. That's nice."
Jordan Crawford paced the Wizards (0-2) with 21 points and Kevin Seraphin scored 19, including a mid-range jumper that gave the Wizards their first lead at 86-84 with 2:56 remaining. On the next possession, Pierce put Boston back on top for good with a 3-pointer, his fourth of the game.
The Wizards faltered late offensively, turning the ball over on consecutive possessions inside the final minute. Boston had its own issues, missing its last three shots from the field, including Garnett's jumper with five seconds remaining.
Washington regained possession with 4.5 seconds left but could only get a contested fadeaway jumper from Martell Webster that fell short.
Jason Terry sank two free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining as the Celtics won their fifth straight against the Wizards.
"We can do that all game," Terry said of the defensive effort down the stretch. "It's just a matter of us getting down and getting it done consistently. We've seen in stretches what we're capable of on the defensive end. Now we just have to get consistency."
Overall, Boston held Washington to 43.6 percent shooting from the floor after allowing its first two opponents collectively to make over half of their shots.
Coming off an 11-point home loss to Milwaukee on Friday, Boston started like an angry team, or at least a very efficient one. From the opening tip, the Celtics controlled both ends of the court and raced to a 17-2 lead. Boston assisted on 10 of 12 baskets and led 26-12 after one quarter.
During those 12 opening minutes, Washington shot 21.1 percent from the field (4 of 19), including misses on 12 of its initial 13 attempts.
The Wizards also struggled offensively in Tuesday's opening game loss at Cleveland.
"Our starts are so bad, you don't know if you're ever going to see daylight again," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said." I didn't know if the ... sun was coming up tomorrow. I truly didn't. That's how bad it was to me, sitting there."
Looking for a lifeline, Wittman turned to his bench late in the opening quarter. Seraphin and Crawford delivered and led the reserves on a second-quarter rally. Seraphin, who in making 8 of 9 shots hit several against the lengthy Garnett, drilled consecutive hooks that capped a 13-4 run and pulled Washington closer at 34-30.
"(Seraphin) had a good game. He clearly worked on his game and I was a bit shocked they were going to him," said Garnett, who forced the big man into one of the late-game turnovers. "At the end, I was able to D-up and he threw it out of bounds."
Behind the rising third-year Wizards center's hot hand, Washington made 14 of 21 shots in the second quarter.
Rondo, not known for his perimeter touch, helped slow Washington's momentum with consecutive 3-pointers and the Celtics entered the halftime locker room with a 49-42 lead. Pierce paced the Celtics with 12 points while Seraphin and Crawford each scored 10 for the Wizards.
"We've got to play the whole 48 minutes," said Crawford, who briefly left the game after someone stepped on his left ankle. "We're being too cool at certain times."
Notes: Playing on his college home court, former Georgetown forward Jeff Green scored 11 points for the Celtics. ... Boston started rookie power forward Jared Sullinger in place of Brandon Bass. Sullinger is a former Ohio State star and the Celtics' first-round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. . . . Washington's bench scored 28 of the team's 42 first-half points and 62 overall. ... The two squads play again Wednesday in Boston for the second of three meetings this season.