It’s getting to the point that the last thing the Wizards need is for an opponent to show up without an injured starter. Chicago didn’t have Derrick Rose nearly two weeks ago and John Lucas III did a reasonable impersonation of the league’s two-time most valuable. Denver didn’t have Nene and Al Harrington made so many three-pointers he became an afterthought.
The Boston Celtics seemingly provided an opportunity for the Wizards when all-star point guard Rajon Rondo showed up in civilian clothes because of a left wrist injury. All-star point guard Ray Allen later went down with jammed left ankle in the second quarter, when he stepped on Jan Vesely’s foot and collapsed to the ground. No Rondo or Allen simply meant that it was on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to lead the undermanned Celtics to a 100-94 win.
“They still had two superstars,” Nick Young said after the game.
And, apparently, that was all the Celtics needed as they improved to 3-0 this season against the Wizards. Boston is 3-9 against the rest of the league.
The Wizards are 2-11 against everybody else and still trying to add the next step to playing improved basketball in recent weeks.
“Learn how to finish games,” Jordan Crawford said after the Wizards played their third consecutive game that was decided in the final minutes. They went 1-2 in those contests.
Crawford made an 18-foot jumper to bring the Wizards within 93-90 with 2 minutes 19 seconds remaining, but the team had a terrible defensive breakdown on the next sequence. Garnett caught the ball near the foul line, then drove inside for an uncontested dunk as Wall jumped early, Trevor Booker was frozen and Andray Blatche refused to leave Brandon Bass and cut off the lane.
“I think at that point it probably took some of the wind out of our sails because we were right there, the shot clock’s coming down. If anyone would’ve rotated to him, he would’ve passed it,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “He wasn’t going to shoot.”
The Wizards were able to hold on Wednesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but they have gotten in trouble the past two losses to Denver and Boston because of some poor execution, bad defensive rotations and more questionable shots. Saunders said the ball had “Velcro on it” in the final minutes, when Young, Crawford and Wall took turns missing shots.
“We were supposed to move the ball,” Saunders said. “We wanted to attack to the weak side and then get penetration off attacks and the ball stuck in guys’ hands. We made some big plays to get back in it but we were making a lot of those plays by moving the ball and the making quick decisions. All of a sudden, we stopped making those quick decisions.”
John Wall was unwilling to have a repeat of what happened when Rose was out, so he tried his best to take advantage of inexperienced Avery Bradley. Wall scored 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, handed out seven assists and also had a blocked shot. He knew that it was on him, but only so much.
“I didn’t want to be over-aggressive and not get everybody into the flow, but I took my opportunities and made a couple of tough shots,” Wall said.
Young struggled trying to keep up with Allen early on, but he got a break when Allen was injured while trying to track him down on defense. Vesely slid over, placed his foot out wide and Allen dropped.
“It was the way [Vesely] was setting screens. He was stepping out and extending and every time I tried go around it, his foot was in the way so it just seemed like a train wreck waiting to happen,” Allen said. “That’s always a lesson for me when I try to play basketball with guys during the offseason that don’t know how to play and don’t know how to use their bodies. Be careful. A young player like that, I have to be aware when I’m out there on the floor.”
Vesely only played three minutes, but he freed up Young, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half. “Nick was terrible early, just how he was guarding Ray, not much energy. I give him credit for coming back from that,” Saunders said.
JaVale McGee also played well in the second half after being ineffective early on. McGee has said that he wouldn’t try to attract any negative attention after the backlash from his off-the-backboard self-alley-oop on Monday against Houston. He responded to the other extreme in the first half. All alone on the break, McGee decided that he didn’t want to do a flashy dunk, so he tried a finger roll – and missed.
He came back to score 11 of his 13 points in the second half, helping the Wizards rally from a 15-point deficit to take a fourth-quarter lead. McGee didn’t speak to reporters after the game.
The Wizards simply didn’t have an answer for Pierce, who has had two of his best games of the season against them.
Pierce had his step-back jumper working, was able to use his hesitation drive to get to the basket and even used some veteran savvy to overwhelm the Wizards. In the second quarter, Pierce drove around Chris Singleton, got into the lane, and stopped the moment he saw McGee. He then dished the ball off to Brandon Bass and drifted back to the three-point line. When McGee slapped Bass’s layup in the opposite direction, Pierce was there waiting to catch the ball and drill a wide-open three.
“I over think the game at times but I just need to focus on what’s going to get me better,” Pierce said. “I was just taking my time today and reading their defense. It gets tough sometimes, especially when they have a guy like JaVale McGee who is a great shot blocker in this league. I tried to really focus on my mid-range shots.”
The Wizards tried five different defenders on Pierce and he took advantage of all of them. Pierce finished with 34 points and 10 assists, meaning that he couldn’t be stopped when he shot and made plays whenever the Wizards tried to take the ball out of his hands.
“We had a problem,” Saunders said.
And they have another loss that has them begging to face their opponents at full strength. Then again, at 2-14, it probably doesn’t matter.
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