Boston Celtics: Washington Wizards
Over the course of this five-game homestand, the Celtics outscored opponents by a staggering 9.8 points in the first quarter. To put that in perspective, that's almost three points better than the nearest team (Oklahoma City Thunder at plus-7.0) and almost double the next-closest squad (Dallas Mavericks at plus-5.0).
But Boston's quarterly splits get ugly from there: minus-3.6 in the second quarter, minus-6 in the third and minus-1.8 in the fourth during that span.
Is Boston getting a little too comfortable with early leads?
"I don't think they're too comfortable. I think, more than anything, maybe not playing with enough focus on controlling the next thing," said coach Brad Stevens. "Because when you start to lose a lead, that's a challenging thing from a human-nature standpoint. So one of the things that we've got to do is we've just got to be better in playing the next possession, regardless of circumstance.
"And a lot of that has to do with being young. A lot of that has to do with being on the right side of the scoreboard on a couple of occasions. And you build belief, and then this is the next challenge that comes with that, right? So you never would say a good start's not good. A good start's what you want, but you also want the rest of the 48 minutes to be good as well."
During this five-game homestand, Boston shot 59.3 percent overall from the floor in the first quarter and 50 percent beyond the 3-point arc. Its average lead was 30.6-20.8.
During Saturday's visit from the Wizards, it was even greater. Boston shot 60 percent from the field and, keyed by 10 points from Jared Sullinger, owned a 30-14 advantage after the first 12 minutes. Washington trimmed its deficit to seven at halftime and had tied the game before the end of the third quarter. Trevor Ariza (game-high 27 points) and John Wall (20 points, 9 assists, 6 steals) took over the final 16 minutes, and a 14-1 run late in the fourth helped Washington lead by as much as nine in the closing moments.
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Stevens and the Celtics flew to his native Indianapolis after Saturday's 106-99 loss to the Washington Wizards with the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers waiting on the tail end of a back-to-back.
Stevens, who grew up a Pacers fan and spent 14 years as a coach at nearby Butler University, admits he's uncertain how it will feel to play inside the familiar confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"I don't know. Certainly, I’ll know a lot of people in the building," said Stevens. "It’s a wonderful place, a wonderful place to be raised. As much as you look forward to that for the time we’ll get to spend [with friends and family] afterwards, if anybody has watched [the Pacers] play, you know I’m not really looking forward to the game."
The Pacers are 21-5 and handed Boston a 97-82 loss at TD Garden in late November. Boston has played its best basketball since that point and, despite losing two in a row, players view Indiana as a chance to gauge their progress.
Stevens' players also understand how important that game will be to their coach, even as he attempts to keep the focus on the team he'll be coaching against.
"Bottom line is, it’s an Indiana Pacers game and they’re going to have a great fan support; they’ve got a great team," said Stevens. "You know I said this before we played them the first time: It’s the best Pacers team I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. And so that’s a great challenge that we have. As a competitor, you want to try to challenge yourself. And at the same time, the people that are going to be in that building that I know, and I’ll know a lot of them, are really special to our family and that whole state and that whole city is to us."
Stevens will get a chance to exhale a bit after Sunday's game. The Celtics plan to take three days off from Dec. 23-25. His family will stay in Indianapolis for a bit before making about a five-hour trek to spend Christmas with his in-laws. Stevens smiled as he noted, "My wife [Tracy] is happy."
A win against Indiana would certainly brighten the holiday season for Stevens as well.
A handful of notes after Boston's loss to Washington:
- CRAWFORD SEES OLD FRIENDS: Jordan Crawford registered 11 points, eight assists and three rebounds against his former team, but committed a team-high five turnovers and was minus-4 in plus/minus in the loss. Asked if he had any extra motivation for the game, Crawford said, "I just wanted to win the game. [Boston had] lost one before that, so I wanted to get back on track." He admitted it was good to see some of his former teammates, many of whom gushed about his progress in Boston. The Celtics acquired Crawford from the Wizards at February's trade deadline in exchange for Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa.
- MOVING ON: Knowing the challenge Indiana presents, the Celtics wanted to put Saturday's loss behind them quickly. "It’s only going to get tougher," said Jared Sullinger. "We’re playing against one of the best teams in the East. So it’s only going to get tougher, so we gotta buckle down. And as much as I don’t want to say this, we kinda gotta wipe this one out and get ready to play [Sunday]."
- BRADLEY'S OFFENSIVE OUTBURST: Avery Bradley scored 21 of his team-high 26 points after the intermission, and the Celtics leaned hard on him after the intermission. Bradley made 10 of 14 shots in the second half, including eight from the mid-range or deeper. He provided a needed spark while running with a reserve group late in the third, even if it couldn't fend off the Wizards' rally. "I just think [Bradley] had a good roll about him," said Stevens. "He’s playing with a group that isn’t necessarily known individually for scoring the ball. When you’ve got it going, it’s our decision to keep him going and try to go to him as much as possible. He did a great job with it. It’s part of his growth and I think he can get a lot better. I think his effectiveness on the offensive end will just continue to improve and improve."
BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Washington Wizards defeated the Boston Celtics 106-99 on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden:
THE NITTY GRITTY
Avery Bradley scored 21 of his team-high 26 points after the intermission, putting on a mid-range clinic while shooting 12-of-18 from the floor overall in a team-high 38 minutes, but couldn't fend off the Washington charge. Jared Sullinger (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (11 points, 11 rebounds) held a meeting of the double-double club, while Jordan Crawford had 11 points, 8 assists, and 3 rebounds against his former squad. Trevor Ariza scored 19 of his game-high 27 points after the intermission (including 14 in the third quarter) to help the Wizards rally back. Marcin Gortat added 13 points and 11 rebounds, while John Wall kicked in 20 points and 9 assists for Washington.
Despite leading by as much as 18 early, the Celtics again let an opponent back into the game. Boston's lead was at 8 with 6:14 to play, but Ariza and Wall paired up to key a 14-1 run and Ariza's fifth 3-pointer of the night had the Wizards out front 98-93 with 2:24 to play (Washington's biggest lead of the night to that point). The Wizards closed out the game on a 22-7 run overall.
After turning the ball over just three times in the first half, the Celtics gave it away six times in the third quarter. The team finished with a manageable 13 turnovers for 16 points, but that third quarter let Washington back into the game. ... Boston shot 48.3 percent overall, but struggled beyond the 3-point arc (4-of-20, 20 percent). ... Gortat finished a team-best plus-19 for Washington; Wall was plus-16. ... Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks were healthy DNPs for Boston.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (12-16) have now lost two straight and are tied with Toronto atop the Atlantic Division. Boston travels to Indiana tonight with the tail end of a back-to-back looming Sunday against the East-leading Pacers (it's also a homecoming for Indianapolis native Brad Stevens). A five-day holiday break is their reward, the first three days of which the Celtics will take completely off from basketball activities. Boston returns to practice on Dec. 26 and hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers next Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.
"There are human elements to this game and you can either approach them in that way, or you can just focus on team and controlling what you can control," said Stevens. "One of Jordan’s greatest strengths is his willingness and his desire to step up in the moment. I don’t want to do anything to limit that. One of the things that I talked to him about is, ‘OK, this is what we’re looking to do, this is how we’re looking to attack,’ but he needs to be able to pick his spots and choose his spots, and he’ll make some mistakes, but that’s OK. We’ll live with that and ride with that. Hopefully the good ones outweigh the bad ones at the end of the game."
Acquired from the Wizards at February's trade deadline last season, Crawford played his former squad last April. He registered six points, two assists and two steals over 16 minutes in Boston's 107-96 triumph at TD Garden. Crawford's role has expanded this season, elevating to starting point guard as Rajon Rondo rehabs from ACL surgery. Crawford even netted the NBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Week honor earlier this month.
"He’s been capable of that. We’ve all known that, of doing what he’s able to do," said Washington coach Randy Wittman. "He’s a good player that can affect the game in a lot of different ways. Again, I have a hard enough time following our team closely to really give you any more than that. I mean, I coached him. I know what he’s capable of. I think you guys are seeing that here."
Former teammate John Wall fully expects an amped Crawford.
"You know Jordan. You know how he is. He’s a competitive guy," said Wall. "And when he feels like a team lets him go or something like that, he uses that as more motivation. He wants to show them a reason why. I think he matured, so he’ll show them in a better way than he would have in the past. In the past, he probably would’ve tried to go out and get 30 or 40 [points]. Now, I think he’ll try to do whatever he’s doing in the right way and try to set his guys up and just try to win the basketball game."
A couple other pregame notes:
- SANTA VISITS EARLY: Each Celtics player had an Xbox One with a ribbon stuck to it at their locker on Saturday morning. Courtney Lee, an avid gamer, said he hoped the gifts would inspire his teammates to dedicate themselves to bringing their video gaming to his level. "Hopefully these guys will work on their skills so I can have some people to compete against in here," said Lee.
- BETTER DEFENSE REQUIRED: Asked about his team's offensive progression lately, Stevens said, "We’re progressing offensively. When you score 106 points [Wednesday night against Detroit], I feel like we should win [that game]. So I didn’t think we were as good defensively, but part of that was that we turned the ball over too much. We go through our lulls with turning it over, we have to get better with that. But I think we’re utilizing our strengths better than we were at the start of the year, and, hey, we’re small. When you look out there, especially with [Brandon] Bass and Jared [Sullinger] out there, we’re a small team, even in the perimeter we’re small. We’re going to have to utilize all of different skill sets to be the best that we can be. And our guys are doing a pretty good job of finding people in spots to be successful."
- COACH'S SCOUTING REPORT: Asked what stands out about the Wizards, first-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted, "[John] Wall's speed up and down the floor, his ability to put pressure on you on both ends. Obviously they’ve got excellent shooting in [Bradley] Beal, [Trevor] Ariza, and [Martell Webster specifically. Then you’ve got guys on the interior, their two trades in the last 18 months or whatever, you’ve got Nene and [Marcin] Gortat, those guys are bona fide NBA big guys and now they are all healthy, they look really good. They won on the glass against Brooklyn 51-31. We all saw Brooklyn in person a couple weeks ago, Brooklyn is not small. That’s a heck of an accomplishment."
- EAST MEASURING-STICK STRETCH: Over a three-game stretch, Boston will see the Pistons, Wizards and Pacers -- three almost surefire Eastern Conference playoff teams. The Celtics let a win slip away against Detroit, and now will get a chance to see where they stack up against Washington and Indiana as part of this back-to-back before a five-day Christmas break. "Washington with everybody healthy, they are playing great basketball," said Courtney Lee. "Then going into Indiana, another one of the top teams in the East. I think both of these games are a good test for us."
- WHAT ELSE? After kicking away a 21-point lead against the Pistons, including a lackluster start to the second half, Gerald Wallace said the team needs more consistency. "We gotta play 48 minutes," said Wallace. "I think the third quarter has been our enemy the last couple games. We’ve had slow starts in the third quarter. We gotta come out and start the second half on a good note." ... The Wizards rank 21st in offensive rating, 17th in defensive rating and 20th in net rating. ... Washington is a top-10 team on the defensive glass, ranking ninth overall. For the month of December, the Wizards are actually the top rebounding team in the league, sitting first in both defensive and total rebound percentages.
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An excerpt from today's featured story:
* KG MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE: In the eight games Garnett sat out, Boston posted a defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 103.4 -- about 3½ points above their season average. On Sunday night, in the 24 minutes Garnett was on the floor, Boston's defensive rating plummeted to 84.7. Eighty-four point seven! Sure, the Wizards' offense has a way of making opposing defenses look good, but Washington shot 39 percent when Garnett was on the floor and rarely wandered near the hoop with him patrolling. Allow Avery Bradley to gush about what Garnett's presence means to the Celtics. "Kevin's presence on the floor -- I love playing with Kevin, man," Bradley said. "He just, his intensity, he makes everything easier on everybody. He talks the whole game. I love playing with him."
Part of the reason why the Celtics were willing to send Wilcox away was because they weren't seeing the kinds of performances that he delivered in Sunday's 107-96 win over the Wizards, in which he contributed 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting to go along with five rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.
Instead, Boston had been getting a steady wave of inconsistency from Wilcox that not even increased opportunities with Kevin Garnett out for eight games could help.
Garnett returned on Sunday, but in the eight games he missed, Wilcox averaged just 3.5 points and 3.6 rebounds, playing more than 20 minutes just twice over the stretch. But Wilcox was able to channel on Sunday what has garnered him success in the past: an ability to make a difference through sheer activity and hustle around the basket.
"I just wanted to go out there and be aggressive," Wilcox said. "It was Kev's first game back and I just wanted to go out there and run the floor and just try to get involved a little bit more. In the past I kind of went away from getting in there, banging and stuff, so I think tonight I went in there and just tried to get a couple easy baskets and it worked tonight."
THE NITTY GRITTY
Brandon Bass scored a team-high 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go along with six rebounds to pace a balanced Boston output that put five players in double figures for scoring. Kevin Garnett, back on the floor after missing eight games due to left ankle inflammation, finished with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block over a manageable 24 minutes of floor time (his night would have been 3½ minutes shorter, but Washington rallied a bit late). Paul Pierce, back after a one-game absence due to a sore right ankle, added 15 points and five assists over 30 minutes and was a team-best plus-15 overall. John Wall scored a team-high 16 points on 8-of-20 shooting to pace the Wizards.
The Celtics were clinging to a one-point lead after a Garrett Temple 3-pointer on the first possession of the second half. Soon after, however, Boston embarked on a 19-3 run to blow open the doors a bit and build a 17-point cushion. The Celtics made all seven shots they took over a six-minute span and got six points from Bass. A Pierce 3-pointer put Boston out front 77-60 with 3:51 to play in the third quarter. The Wizards were 1-of-10 shooting and turned the ball over twice during the Celtics' run.
HELP FROM THE BACKUP BIGS
The Celtics got a nice little boost from their backup big men as Chris Wilcox connected on 6-of-7 shots for 13 points (with five rebounds) and Shavlik Randolph made both shots he put up for eight points (with a team-high seven rebounds). Having Garnett to anchor the front line kept their playing time in manageable bursts and got the most out of their 35 minutes of combined floor time.
Garnett picked up his team-leading eighth technical foul of the season for arguing about a foul called against Pierce early in the third quarter. Pierce looked to get all ball trying to prevent Okafor from going up with a second-chance shot, but was whistled for the foul and Garnett, miffed from what he thought was a missed call earlier, voiced his displeasure.
WHAT IT MEANS
Nothing like KG to cure what ails you. The Celtics led by as much as 18 in the second half before the Wizards rallied a bit (forcing Rivers to sub in both Garnett and Pierce with four minutes to play). The Celtics shot 55.8 percent (43-of-77) and generated 50 points in the paint. Boston gets two days off before closing out a four-game homestand on Wednesday with a visit from the Brooklyn Nets.
BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics welcome back both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on Sunday night against the Washington Wizards.
Garnett missed the last eight games due to left ankle inflammation, while Pierce sat out Friday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers due to a sore right ankle. The duo will join a new-look starting lineup alongside Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, and Brandon Bass (that combo has spent a mere 13 minutes together this season).
Bradley suffered a bruised collarbone in Friday's loss and sat out practice on Saturday, but is in the starting lineup despite lingering soreness. He'll be needed to contain Wizards point guard John Wall (more on him below).
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said both Garnett and Pierce felt good after going through Saturday's practice session and he doesn't expect any limitations for his players.
"I’ll watch Kevin, I doubt if he plays his normal 30 minutes, so I’ll watch him, but there’s no limitations by any of the doctors or anything," Rivers said.
Asked about having nearly a full lineup available, Rivers said, "It’ll be nice to look down the bench and see more guys down there. That’ll be nice. I wouldn’t be surprised to be a little rusty because of [the time missed]... [but] it’s nice because you have time to to try to get some kind of rhythm back."
A couple more pregame nuggets:
* HITTING THE WALL: Rivers gushed about the recent play of Wall, but said his eye-popping stat lines might have more to do with health than development. "I think his development came over the last couple years and now he’s putting it into play," Rivers said. "He’s playing terrific. He’s getting to the foul line at a record pace. He’s [averaging] 14, or 13½ [free throws] over the last seven or eight games, that’s crazy. I think what people miss with Washington though is the job that [coach Randy Wittman has] done with the defense. They are fifth in the league defensively. So I think everyone’s talking about Wall, while they are building the wall defensively. You guys like that play on words? I worked on that all day."
* DOC'S GOT MORE JOKES: That wasn't Rivers' only playful moment of the pregame session. Asked about Wittman, his former teammate, and whether he knew the two would be coaches some day, Rivers noted, "I knew Randy would be a coach, for sure. He talked about it all the time. And he coached a ton when we played. He used to say 'help' a lot defensively because he was always getting beat off the dribble. We just assumed he’d be coaching, you really did."
* A DANGEROUS OPPONENT: Despite their overall record, the Wizards have played solid basketball since the start of February. Washington is 18-12 over its last 30 games (by comparison, playoff-bound Boston is 16-14 in that same span). The Wizards have won three of their last four with triumphs over both playoff-bound Chicago and Indiana in that span. Washington does struggle on the road (losing its last four there, and has dropped five straight in Boston).
* WALL OF FAME: Since returning in mid-January, John Wall has averaged 18 points, 7.6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1.3 steals over 32.2 minutes per game (and the Wizards are 24-19 in that 43-game span). Over his last 20 games since the start of March, Wall's numbers hop up to 23 points, 7.8 assists, 5 rebounds and 1.6 steals over 35.9 minutes per game. Wall is coming off a 37-point outburst against defensive-minded Indiana. Remember, too, his little rivalry with Avery Bradley (Bradley was a higher-ranked prospect in high school). If Bradley can play through his collarbone bruise, this will be a highly entertaining matchup.
* NO PLAYOFFS, NO PROBLEM: Allow Celtics coach Doc Rivers to explain why teams not headed to the postseason may be the most dangerous at this time of year. "They are free. They are not playing for anything except for themselves," he said. "It’s serious for everyone. The guys on Washington, the guys on Cleveland, they are playing for their careers. I’ve always laughed when people think the non-playoff teams don't play hard, these guys, most of them are free agents, and every night is an audition. They are auditioning for [the Celtics] when they are on the other team. So it’s hard."
* WIZ KIDS PLAY D: Don't sleep on Washington's defense. The Wizards own the fifth best defensive rating (99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions), better even than Boston (7th, 100.0). Washington is also fifth in defensive rebound percentage (74.8), limiting second-chance opportunities for opponents. Synergy Sports data ranks Washington at seventh in the league allowing 0.904 points per play and the Wizards grade out well against most top play types, but are most susceptible to pick-and-roll ball-handlers (18th overall, 0.802 points per play).
An excerpt from the featured story:
* CRAWFORD FORGETS WIZ; EMBRACES C'S: Each time the topic of the Washington Wizards was even broached, Crawford acted as if the two-year period from Feb. 23, 2011 (when he was traded from Atlanta) to Feb. 21, 2013 (when he was acquired by Boston) had been swiped from his memory. "Who?" asked Crawford. "I don't recall playing for Washington." Laughter ensued, but it quickly gave way to more awkward questioning as it became clear Crawford had no desire to actually address the topic.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Brandon Bass scored five of his 11 points in overtime, with five in a row as the Celtics pulled away for their second consecutive harder-than-it-should-have-been triumph over Washington. Kevin Garnett (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (18 points, 14 assists) added double-doubles for the Celtics, while Jason Terry chipped in 16 points off the bench in his best effort with Boston. Kevin Seraphin and Martell Webster each came off the pine to score 16 points for the Wizards, while Bradley Beal (16), A.J. Price (15) and Chris Singleton (14) joined them in double figures.
TURNING POINT 1: WILCOX'S IMPACT
Chris Wilcox saw his first action with 3:10 to play in the third quarter and the game tied at 56. He proceeded to (1) block a Seraphin jumper; (2) force a turnover that led to an and-1 layup off a feed from Rondo; and (3) help out on the defensive glass. That allowed Boston to carry a 66-58 lead out of the third quarter. The Celtics' bench was in desperate need of a spark, and Wilcox provided it.
TURNING POINT 2: A CRAZY FINAL MINUTE
The Celtics were down a point with little more than a minute to go when Garnett forced a baseline turnover, only to be tagged with a technical foul for extracurricular activity with Seraphin (it ended up being a wash, as Martell Webster hit the technical and Garnett made his two free throws to tie the game at 84). Back on the defensive end, Pierce forced Seraphin to turn the ball over and was fouled, but made only one of his freebies. Webster turned the ball over yet again, but (again) Rondo made just one of two for an 86-84 lead with 36.6 seconds to play. Chris Singleton responded with two free throws with 33.1 seconds to go to even the game. Rondo buried a 20-foot jumper with 26.4 seconds to go, but Singleton responded with a driving one-handed jam with 9.4 ticks to play to set up the final-shot opportunity. Rondo's not-what-they-drew-up, step-back 3-pointer was off the mark as time expired.
TURNING POINT 3: OVERTIME
Two strong drives at the bucket resulted in three points for Bass, including a layup with 1:51 to play that had Boston on top 95-92. Bass added a layup in transition with 37.7 seconds to go to essentially seal the win.
WHO NEEDS FREE THROWS?
The Wizards didn't shoot their first free throw of the game until there was 7:19 remaining in the third quarter (a span of nearly 29 minutes) before Beal capped a three-point play with a trip to the charity stripe. The Wizards were up 49-44 at that point. Washington finished with just seven free throw attempts (making six); Boston was 28-of-34 at the stripe.
RONDO MOVING TOWARD HISTORY
Rondo now has 10-plus assists in 28 straight regular-season games spanning the past two seasons, the fourth-longest streak in NBA history. He's still chasing two marks by John Stockton and the NBA record of 46 games by Magic Johnson in 1983-84, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
WHAT IT MEANS
Just when you think the Celtics are moving in the right direction, they certainly made things harder than they needed to be in this one. There are plenty of positives, including Wilcox's burst and Terry's contributions, along with Bass' late-game play. But Boston still is searching for that elusive chemistry and consistency. The Celtics were up 11 early in the fourth quarter before the Wizards rallied to force the extra session. Boston will take a day off before hosting the Andrew Bynum-less Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night at TD Garden.
* PREACHING PATIENCE: The Celtics are hoping to see progress on Wednesday, particularly after two solid days of practice, but the team cautions that growing pains are unlikely to disappear altogether. Boston's focus is on long-term development over immediate gains. "It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon," said rookie forward Jared Sullinger. "It’s going to take time and understanding of where we are coming from as a basketball team. We’re slowly working on that, and it’s not going to happen just yet, but give us until about midseason, we’re going to be pretty good." Celtics coach Doc Rivers was asked how long it will take for it all to come together. "There's no date," he said. "Every group is different. Because if one guy doesn't get it, it breaks the whole team down. So, just, every year, it's a different group, and there's no expiration date on anybody. It just takes time."
* SULLINGER STARTS, TAKE 2? Sullinger drew his first career start Saturday in the nation's capital and put together a solid outing. The expectation is he'll be back in the starting lineup Wednesday night with a chance to further entrench himself with the first unit. Maybe more importantly, it's another glimpse at whether shifting Brandon Bass to a reserve role can add a little firepower to a bench mob that has offered inconsistent production over the first three games.
* A 48-MINUTE EFFORT: The Celtics smothered Washington out of the gates on Saturday night, making it difficult for the Wizards to simply get up shots over the first nine minutes with improved defensive focus. That helped Boston build a double-digit cushion, but the Celtics couldn't sustain that intensity and Washington nearly rallied late to steal the game. Expect Rivers to put an emphasis on starting fast and keeping a foot on the accelerator. This is where Boston could use a boost from the bench, to prevent lulls and take some of the stress off the veteran Big Three of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
* EYES ON WILCOX: After missing nearly all of training camp and the entire exhibition season, Chris Wilcox has been eased into the new season. He did play a season-high 7:42 against Washington on Saturday, but contributed nothing more than two fouls. Boston wants to see the Wilcox who was attacking the defensive glass and running the floor with Rondo before a heart ailment ended his season last year.
After tinkering with the lineup by inserting rookie Jared Sullinger as the starting power forward, the Celtics responded with an energized, defensively efficient 17-2 lead in the opening minutes.
But then the Celtics got back to what they know best. Actually, it was more about who they know best: Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
"I made a point of it," Rivers said. "I reminded our guys that Paul was on our team and Kevin was on our team. I loved that at halftime, they had the most shots. That's how it's got to be every night."
Identity crisis solved.
At least for a night.
Pierce scored 15 of his game-high 27 points in the second half, including eight in the fourth quarter, to provide the clutch offense. Garnett forced a turnover on Washington's potential go-ahead possession with 28 seconds left and Boston avoided a second straight 0-3 start to the season.
Beating a Wizards team that was missing its two best players in John Wall and Nene wasn't exactly viewed as a breakthrough accomplishment for the Celtics.
But for a Boston team long on recently acquired veterans and short on chemistry, it was a modestly productive step forward for a team that remains a work in progress.
"I don't think we're close," said guard Rajon Rondo. "But our heads and our hearts are in the right direction. We've got to continue to buy into the system, what coach is telling us to do every night and we'll get there. We've got the right approach to the game each night, and it starts with defense."
Rivers saw some familiar signs.
Rapid reaction following the Boston Celtics' 89-86 victory over the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center Saturday night.
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 27 points on 10-of-22 shooting to go with seven rebounds, while Kevin Garnett chipped in 15 points and seven rebounds. Rajon Rondo added his usual double-double, scoring 12 points to go along with 12 assists and five rebounds. The Wizards were paced by two of their key reserves, with Jordan Crawford putting in 21 points and Kevin Seraphin scoring 19.
TURNING POINT: The Celtics got the start they wanted, sprinting out to a 17-2 lead seven minutes into the game, finishing the opening quarter with a commanding 26-12 lead. But Washington, led by Crawford and Seraphin, mounted a slow, steady comeback, getting to within two (69-67) with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Jeff Green and Pierce opened things back up for Boston, but Washington refused to fold, and a Seraphin jumper with 2:51 to play gave the Wizards their first lead. Pierce fired right back with a deep right-wing 3-pointer that ended up being the game's final bucket, as both teams squandered final-minute scoring opportunities before Jason Terry sealed things with two free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining.
BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME: Five minutes into the third frame, Garnett secured a rebound and launched a three-quarters-court, two-handed pass to a sprinting Brandon Bass, who made an impressive catch on the run, missed his initial layup bid but corralled the offensive board and slammed home a putback while drawing a foul.
PIERCE LEADS THE WAY: Paul Pierce went into Saturday's bout having averaged 17 points in his first two games to start the season and proceeded to unleash his strongest scoring effort yet. He scored in typical Pierce fashion, with a host of midrange jump shots and 3-pointers complementing steady drives to the rim. One attack of the basket included a nifty fake into the paint and an ensuing spin along the left baseline into the lane for a layup. Pierce knocked down four of his eight 3-point field goal attempts, with his final one serving as the go-ahead bucket for Boston after the Wizards had just secured their first lead of the ballgame.
RONDO MATCHES STOCKTON: Rondo reached double figures in assists for the 27th consecutive regular-season game, tying Utah Jazz great John Stockton for the fourth-longest streak in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
SULLINGER STARTS: Jared Sullinger recorded the first start of his NBA career, contributing four points and seven rebounds over 30 minutes. Bass had started the Celtics' first two games of the season, but coach Doc Rivers noted throughout training camp that he would experiment with multiple starting lineups during the regular season, and this was the first example of that.
UNSUNG HERO: Jeff Green put in 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting in just 16 minutes of action. Green is clearly still carving out a niche with this Boston team but found himself open on a number of kickout opportunities and obliged by knocking down a handful of shots. He got a quick start with a strong right-baseline drive off an upfake late in the first quarter and added a slew of jump shots from there.
WHAT IT MEANS: It wasn't pretty, but the Celtics won't complain about picking up their much-needed first win of the young season. Compared to their first two outings, there was a noticeable improvement in their offensive execution, with veterans such as Pierce and Garnett shouldering the scoring load, which was needed given the growing pains this team is still fighting through. It's clear Rivers is still figuring out which lineups he likes best, but he saw signs of the dominant defense this team is capable of, particularly during the first quarter, when the Celtics held the Wizards to just 4-of-19 shooting (21.2 percent). Boston still needs more consistent scoring from its bench, as Terry once again struggled through a difficult shooting night (2-for-8, 8 points). But as this team continues to jell, it will be able to find ways of getting the likes of Terry and Green easier scoring opportunities. Boston will enjoy a day off Sunday and will likely resume practice early next week before a rematch with this same Wizards club Wednesday night at TD Garden.
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