Ray Allen saves Celtics from themselves

BOSTON -- After another lackluster and largely uninspired effort against a mediocre team on their home court, you half expect the Boston Celtics to be disappointed in a come-from-behind victory over the Washington Wizards.

But while openly admitting that there are no excuses for their play over the first 42 minutes of Sunday's game, the Celtics viewed the glass as decidedly half-full after rallying from a 13-point deficit for an 86-83 triumph at TD Garden.

"You could probably say, in a small way, we did [get away with one], but we fought for it," said Ray Allen, who scored 18 of his game-high 25 points after the intermission, including a pair of pivotal 3-pointers in the final two minutes. "We never gave up or thought it was over.

"I compare my feeling now opposed to if we lost that game. It definitely makes my food later taste a lot better. We just keep building, keep building. I have been reflecting on the championship year -- losing to Washington three times, Charlotte beat us a couple times, and we were just so dejected because of it. But sometimes it's just matchups, guys get hot. I think [Andray] Blatche and [Al] Thornton got hot tonight. We just have to move forward and continue working on our defense."

With that defense in mind, here are three reasons the Celtics came away content with Sunday's victory:

1. Before Sunday, the 2009-10 Celtics lost this type of game: From the opening tip, Sunday's game felt eerily like last the Feb. 27 loss to the New Jersey Nets. Here's the big difference: Unlike the Nets loss, it didn't feel like the Celtics were ever going to produce the come-from-behind rally Sunday. Some fans even left with the team down 13 with less than six minutes to play.

What's more, the Celtics could have given up when their rally got sidetracked. A 10-0 run cut the Wizards' lead to three with less than three minutes to play, but JaVale McGee, a pest all evening, scored with 2:38 to play to make it 81-76.

At the other end, Rajon Rondo missed a layup and the Wizards had a chance to essentially seal the game, but Thornton missed a 6-foot floater.

Even when Kevin Garnett, who had possibly the worst offensive night of his NBA career after failing to connect on any of the seven shots he took, missed the back end of two free throws to keep it a two-possession game, Boston kept fighting and Allen's 3-pointer with 1:32 to play gave Boston its first lead of the night.

Randy Foye answered with a 15-foot jumper to put the Wizards back on top. But Foye later missed a triple that would have salted away the game with 33 seconds to play, and Allen then connected on the game's biggest shot -- another trifecta -- with 17 ticks remaining for an 85-83 Celtics lead.

"I take it as a win," said Rivers. "We'll take it. You know, it was good to win a game like this, as far as I was concerned. We've lost so many of these, where we've played poorly and lost. It's nice every once in a while to play poorly and win. It's a good win for us.

"Obviously, I'd like to play better. I wish we could've played the last eight minutes of the game for the first 40 minutes. But we didn't. We found a way. To me, what I liked about the win is that we haven't been able to pull these out over this last stretch when we were struggling. Tonight we did."

2. The Celtics found a way to win while leaning on 2007-08-type defense: After allowing the Wizards to shoot a shade under 50 percent for the first three quarters of the game, Boston's defense tightened up when it absolutely had to.

The Wizards were 7-of-18 in the final quarter, but only two of those field goals came over the final six minutes. Boston closed out the game on a 20-4 burst.

Rivers suggested to his team that it needed to be near perfect over the final six minutes. It was.

"We should have played with that intensity all game," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "Once our defensive intensity picked up, it changed the whole ballgame for us, getting up on guys, making them do things that they didn't want to do.

"We gave them the shots that they wanted to shoot. It can't be that way. I was happy with the way that we dug in there because a lot of these games this year we let go, when we saw we have been down 10 minutes with three or four minutes left to go, we haven't been able to pull those games out. Tonight, we saw something that I like to see at this point in the season, coming down the stretch. We saw the Celtics that we are used to seeing."

Added Allen: "It was night and day; we put a lot of pressure on them, we made them play away from the basket, we forced them to be more uncomfortable than we did in the first half."

3. Boston didn't deserve to win, but it did: The Celtics tried desperately to give this game away, but they couldn't. That can be interpreted two ways. Wizards coach Flip Saunders opened his postgame news conference saying, "Well, we choked."

That's fair, but the Celtics were choking too at times, and still found a way to give themselves the Heimlich maneuver while stumbling around the court.

Take the final possession of the game. The Wizards had the opportunity for a tying shot trailing 86-83 and Boston's strategy has long been to foul in that situation, not allowing the other team a chance to tie.

It never happened. Somehow Thornton got a decent look before the buzzer. As Rivers is fond of noting, the basketball gods sometimes allow those shots to drop.

Not on Sunday.

"Yeah, we know that [we should have fouled]," admitted Rivers. "That's how we played all game. It's amazing. And it was a great time to foul because we were up three. Foye actually took it to half court and then went sideways, which was going to burn even more clock. What we were trying to do, you foul after he crosses half court. And we didn't foul. So Thornton got a great look.

"I'm a big believer -- I think you guys know that, we do it all the time -- in the foul, especially when the other team doesn't have a timeout. Which they did not have."

Maybe the basketball gods are starting to smile on the Celtics.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.