BOSTON – John Wall dribbled out the final seconds of the Wizards’ 106-99 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday and Nene immediately tracked down Jordan Crawford to give him a hug and a pat on the head. Wall, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal all walked up to Crawford as well, sharing handshakes and hugs with their former teammate.
On his third team in four seasons, Crawford has been playing well under new Celtics Coach Brad Stevens, toning down his game and showcasing the playmaking ability that he rarely got to display while being utilized mostly as a shooting guard in Washington. The Wizards knew to expect an aggressive Crawford in his first start against the team that dumped him for scraps just 10 months ago.
“He’s going to be extra juiced,” Wall said before the game.
With Beal drawing the initial defensive assignment, Crawford came out determined to beat the Wizards with his shooting and his passing. He had seven points and four assists in the first quarter – besting the combined total of Beal and Wall (five points and two assists) – and knocked down a three-pointer near the end of the period that gave the Celtics a 30-16 lead.
But Wall kept Crawford relatively quiet the rest of the way. Wall shut him down with a stellar defensive performance in which he recorded a season-high six steals. Wall assumed that Crawford would attempt to hurt the Wizards by setting up his teammates rather than dominating with his scoring, so he made a concerted effort to get the ball out of his hands and make him uncomfortable.
“I got to be the guy to put that pressure on guys,” Wall said. “It really was just on the ball, coming off pick-and-roll and putting my hands up and just being aggressive.”
Crawford was held scoreless in the fourth quarter, when Wall scored seven of his 20 points and gave the Wizards the lead for good with a pull-up jumper that put them ahead, 95-93. After Marcin Gortat gave the Wizards a 100-94 lead with a reverse layup with 63 seconds remaining, Wall stripped Crawford of the ball and drew a foul, sending the crowd at TD Garden on its way.
“I thought his pressure on the ball was tremendous,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Wall. “I thought that really got us going from our defensive situation that we were in and he was picking up three-quarter court. When you are behind watching a guy do that, you better get up too, or that’s not going to look good.”
The Wizards held the Celtics to just two field goals for the final six minutes and staged a 22-5 run in which they forced four turnovers and recorded two blocked shots. Wall was responsible for two of those steals and would’ve had a deflating, volleyball-spike block on Crawford if Avery Bradley hadn’t caught the ball and made a three-pointer. But the message was sent, just as it was against Brooklyn, where Wall limited Deron Williams to a rough shooting night.
After getting schooled by Chris Paul in his last home game, Wall has taken seriously the responsibility of not letting his man dominate.
“I did a better job with Deron Williams than I have done in the past and I knew I could do that with Jordan and I got some key turnovers for our team,” Wall said. “I know I’m the catalyst of this team, being a leader on both ends of the court and I know I’ve got to do a better job of getting into point guards. Sometimes, I let point guards off the hook and let them do what they want and dictate what they want. They never let me do that. They’re going to be aggressive with me and I think I did a great job these last three games.”
Crawford was disappointed that the Celtics blew an 18-point first-half lead and an eight-point lead in the final six minutes, but credited the Wizards for snatching away control with a smothering finish.
“They played a great game,” Crawford said. “Finished it off strong, made plays, and we didn’t.”