For the Wizards, expectations are low, especially when the 33-9 Boston Celtics come to town. Maybe it was playing at the Verizon Center, maybe it was the new addition of point guard Mustafa Shakur from D-League, but the Wizards found a spark to keep up with one of the best teams in the NBA.
The first quarter Saturday night showed what the game was supposed to look like. Boston came out in the first quarter and put on an exhibition. The Celtic starters totaled 31 points, led by Ray Allen who had 10. Rajon Rondo had five assists. Three starters had three or more rebounds, and all but one starter was on pace for a double-double.
It was a showcase of a star-studded lineup.
While Boston was on fire, Washington couldn’t get anything going. John Wall was called for a personal foul twice, forcing Flip Saunders to put in Mustafa Shakur, who was signed to a ten-day contract only hours earlier. They were out-rebounded 7-14 and out-scored 20-35 for the quarter.
“We tell our guys they need to be aggressive,” Saunders said. “We wanted to get to the basket more, and if we can, try to get into the bonus quick, or try to get them to play a little bit not quite as aggressive, because they’re an extremely aggressive, physical team”
By the looks of the game, it should have ended up looking like the Lakers’ 112-57 victory over the Cavaliers earlier this season.
Shakur did his part when he came in though, especially since Kirk Hinrich, the secondary point guard, was listed ineligible. As the point guard, he finished with five points, five assists and two blocked shots in only ten minutes of play.
Shakur did not get much time, but he made a difference.
“My feeling was [that] it’s only a few points,” he told the media after the game. “We have scorers and guys that can drive it and make plays. So my feeling was we’re only down a few buckets, lets get three or four stops and a few baskets and we’ll be right in there.”
In front of a sold out crowd, Washington found a spark in the second quarter on both sides of the court. Boston’s 68.2 percent first quarter shooting dropped to a 43.8 percent mark in the second, as the Wizards’ mark rose from 36.0 to 58.8.
At the half, thanks to a nine-point, one-block effort on 4-of-4 shooting from JaVale McGee, the deficit was cut from 15 points to 10. It did not seem like much on paper, but the momentum started to turn.
McGee even blocked a dunk attempt from Glen Davis.
“I’m just trying to be out there and be a defensive presence, and a defensive threat,” McGee said after the game. “I feel like every time I’m on the court, people are looking for me. Even if I don’t get the blocked shot, people are looking as if I’m there.”
The third quarter saw the comeback materialize. It took nearly the entire quarter, but Andray Blatche scored seven in the quarter after being held to a mere two in the first half. His last two points of the quarter tied the game up briefly with 26.9 seconds left before Nate Robinson made a mid-range jumper to take the lead.
It was enough for the Wizards to have hope. They could not find the lead, but stayed with the Celtics from then on.
McGee tied the game at 77 on a free throw with 4:49 left, then Blatche made a driving dunk with 3:29 to tie it again at 79.
Then John Wall finally laid in the shot on a fast break to take the 81-79 lead. The comeback from a 16-point deficit, which once looked improbable if not impossible, finally materialized.
Wall broke the Wizards out of their 0-8 slump from beyond the arc to take an 84-81 lead with 57.7 seconds in the game.
“I thought John Wall hit a hell of a shot,” Kevin Garnett admitted.
The Celtics came back with a 2-point shot then got the ball back. With time on the clock, Paul Pierce waited for the clock to wind down before taking a shot that bounced off the rim and backboard, leaving the final score, after a pair of foul shots, 85-83.
“I felt good,” Pierce said of his shot. “Got a great look. It just wasn’t my night.”
The Wizards cannot find a way to win on the road, but the Verizon Center has become a foe to the best the NBA has to offer. After all, they lost by one to Miami, lost by one to Orlando, and beat the Eastern-Conference-leading Boston Celtics.
“They suit up just like we suit up, and they can play, too,” Pierce said. “Obviously a better home team than a road team.”