Rapid reaction: Wizards 85, Celtics 83

January, 22, 2011
1/22/11
11:45
PM ET
AP Photo/Alex BrandonRajon Rondo and the Celtics started strong, then faded quickly.
Rapid reaction after the Washington Wizards defeated the Boston Celtics 85-83 Saturday night at the Verizon Center:

--IN NEED OF A LITTLE CHARITY (STRIPE)--

Forget for a moment Boston's putrid second-half shooting (12 of 41, 29.3 percent from the floor), the number that should absolutely leap off the stat sheet is how Boston attempted a mere two free throws over the final 24 minutes of Saturday's loss.

After Paul Pierce missed one of two freebies with 10:29 to play in the game, the Celtics didn't step to the stripe the rest of the night. Somehow, even while collecting four fourth-quarter offensive rebounds, and generating eight of their measly 11 fourth-quarter points in the paint, Boston couldn't draw another shooting foul.

Oh sure, Pierce probably deserved at least two more freebies (Andray Blatche clearly fell for Pierce's upfake HERE with 45 seconds to go and Boston down three). Regardless, the inability to get the free throw line -- a problem for Boston all season long -- suggested an unwillingness to drive or get dirty around the cylinder, something Boston needed in a jump-shot happy game.

For the season, Boston is averaging a mere 22.4 free throws per game, which ranks 26th in the NBA (by comparison, the league-leading Nuggets average 30.8 free throw attempts per game and those extra shots add up). Boston is 15-2 when it shoots 25 free throws or more this season. The fact that they've been held below 20 free throws in 13 games this season is mildly concerning and a 9-4 record in those games shows the impact of not generating easy points.

Celtic teams in the new Big Three era have never been big on free throw attempts, with the 2007-08 championship team averaging the most of the past four seasons at 26.5 free throw attempts per game. But that number is down to 22.4 this year and Boston could surely benefit from more free throw attempts.

Boston didn't help its cause Saturday by missing seven of the 18 free throws it attempted. The Celtics are shooting 75.5 percent from the free throw line this season, slightly below the NBA average (76.1 percent).

How rare is a team shooting just two second-half free throws?

According to ESPN Stats and Info, since the 1996-97 season, the Celtics have attempted just two second-half free throws on 11 occasions. It also occurred on Jan. 12, a win over the Kings, but Boston connected on 52.1 percent of its shots that night and a monster third quarter meant the Celtics could overcome the fact that they put up only 11 free throws total.

Boston couldn't overcome the lack of charity Saturday in D.C.

--THE BASKETBALL GODS WERE ANGRY AT BOSTON'S EFFORT--

Rivers and his players didn't hesitate to invoke the name of the basketball gods when discussing the team's uninspired play over the final 36 minutes of Saturday's loss. Boston blistered the field in the first quarter, shooting a sizzling 68.2 percent (15 of 22) to open a 15-point lead after 12 minutes. But unlike Friday night when Boston opened a similar 15-point, first-quarter cushion against the Utah Jazz, the Celtics never got to kick on the cruise control Saturday.

"I thought [our demise] started in the second quarter," Rivers told reporters in Washington. "We came out and played hard, got a big lead, then went showtime and I thought we deserved to lose.

"It was all jump shots. My problem was the pace. We were walking the ball up the floor and we dribbled the life out of the game. We didn’t go to the post and it was a jump-shooting contest. When you’re up by 10 or 15, jump shots are easy. When you know you’ve squandered the lead, and then you’re wide open, all of a sudden that trigger gets a little tighter and I think that happened tonight.”

Even after a breezy Friday night, Boston's legs had to be a little heavier on the tail end of a back-to-back, capping a week that featured four games in six days. It showed as the Celtics connected on only 19 of their 57 shots (33.3 percent) after the first quarter. That included that gruesome 5-for-23 effort in the fourth (that's highlighted in the shot chart below).

Rivers said that lackluster effort left the basketball gods rooting for the 13-win Wizards. So when rookie John Wall threw up a desperation 27-foot 3-pointer with less than a minute to play, Rivers could only shrug as it kissed off the glass and broke the final tie of the night.

The Wizards finished 1-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc.

"That was the basketball gods punishing us for the way we played," Rivers said.

Echoed Pierce: "When you give a team life and let them back in the game, you allow the basketball gods to come into play. You see what happens: John Wall makes a bank shot and that puts them ahead. It just came back to haunt us.”

ESPN ScreenshotThis thing's got more X's than Elizabeth Taylor.
--LOOSE BALLS: KG SAYS TEAM WILL LEARN; PIERCE NO FAN OF THE 80s--

* Kevin Garnett, who spent much of his night jostling with Andray Blatche (goading the young Washington big man into a technical foul midway through the second quarter), finished with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting with four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block. Garnett said the Celtics will learn from the loss.

“The first half definitely dictates the pace, once we had the lead we should have stretched that a little, but we didn’t," Garnett said. "You can’t give up big leads like that. They play really well at home and we knew that. It’s all about progress, we’ll look at this and learn from it."

* Pierce sounded exasperated after Boston scored 35 first-quarter points, the offensive brilliance from Friday's win over the Jazz spilling into Saturday's first frame, then endured his own struggles as Boston generated a mere 48 points over the final three quarters.

“It was one of those mental games," said Pierce. "It was a combination of us not moving the ball and a combination of us not making shots. I thought we really got some good looks throughout the game in the fourth. When we score 80 points, we know that’s ball movement, making the extra passes and getting defensive stops. No way, with all the weapons, should we be in the 80s.”

* Pierce on Boston's final shot, which he took on an isolation play from the left side (the jumper coming up a bit short): "It felt good, I got a great look. It just wasn’t my night."

* Wall on his game-winning 3-pointer: "I didn’t call it, but I knew it was going to hit backboard. I thought it was going to be a hard brick. It could have broken the backboard, but it went in for us and it was a game-changer. We went up three and it was a big turning point for us.”

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
16.9 1.7 0.7 34.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.1
AssistsR. Rondo 9.8
StealsR. Rondo 1.3
BlocksB. Bass 0.9