Wizards vs. Celtics: Boston plays like a playoff-bound team in 104-88 victory

There hasn’t been much that the Washington Wizards can count on this season, but JaVale McGee alone on a break is almost always, assuredly, going to finish with the 7-foot center throwing down a monster dunk, punctuating it with a tap of the forehead and a salute.

But after newly signed forward Larry Owens stole the ball from Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, dribbled up the floor and dropped the ball off, McGee jumped from just outside the foul line, cocked back the ball and rammed it against the back the rim. Had McGee converted, the Wizards would’ve closed within four points with about five minutes remaining against a team that is supposedly scrapping to secure the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Instead, the ball bounded out of bounds near the Celtics’ bench, and any chance that the Wizards thought they had of stealing a second win over Boston escaped as well. The Celtics took advantage of the Wizards’ continued miscues — Washington had four straight turnovers after the missed dunk — and closed the game on a 15-5 run to pull out a 104-88 win.

“I was just further than I thought I was, and I dunked it down too hard,” McGee said after scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. “We had four turnovers and a missed dunk. Things just went downhill and it wasn’t our night.”

The Wizards don’t have the postseason in their future, but the schedule has placed them in a position to affect the playoff picture as the season draws to a close. This week, they had a hand in crushing the Charlotte Bobcats’ playoff hopes, helped the Indiana Pacers clinch and on Friday, the faced a Boston team that fell into a tie with the Miami Heat for second in the East with a loss the night before in Chicago.

The games may matter more to the opponent, but they certainly have meaning for the Wizards as they attempt to finish the season strongly. They hung around with the Celtics for most of the night but were unable to maintain their composure — unlike their last meeting on Jan. 22, when rookie John Wall made a decisive three-pointer off the glass in an 85-83 victory.

On Friday, Wall had turnovers on consecutive possessions, with the Wizards trailing just 89-83 and Ray Allen made them pay with a pull-up jumper. After McGee sandwiched two turnovers between Jordan Crawford having his shot blocked by Allen, Rajon Rondo found Piece inside for a layup that put Boston ahead by 10 points and ended any chance of a letdown against the lottery-bound Wizards.

“At that point, in the fourth quarter, sometimes you’ve got to slow it down and let the game happen, and I think as a young team, we’re trying to find ourselves, force a little too much,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “It’s a must-win game for Boston, and this is the first time some of our young guys have been in this type of situation. I think it’s good. I think it’s a good growing experience.”

Andray Blatche recorded his fifth consecutive game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, Wall had 20 points, 7 assists, 7 turnovers and 5 steals, and Crawford had 19 points as the Wizards (21-57) dropped to 3-37 on the road this season. Pierce led the Celtics with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but Rondo had 20 points and added 14 assists, matching the total from the Wizards.

“Boston is a team you can’t beat one-on-one,” Wall said. “We knew coming in that they was playing for that No. 2 seed in the East. They didn’t want to give it up. You can’t do that against . . . a talented team that already know how to make the playoffs and already won a championship. We want to see ourselves in the playoffs next year and make a real run at it. It’s not going to be easy.”

All five Celtics starters scored in double figures, with Nenad Krstic scoring 17, Kevin Garnett adding 15 points and 11 rebounds and Allen notching 13. The Celtics (55-24) jumped out to a 66-56 lead in the third period when Crawford attempted to wrap up Garnett, but Garnett fought through it, made the shot before falling down, then beat his fist against his chest as he was on his backside.

They eventually extended the lead to 13 on two free throws by Allen. But the Wizards would not go away, with Crawford making back-to-back baskets to bring them within 87-83, but after a Rondo layup, the Wizards had a chance to respond before McGee’s missed dunk. “It kind of takes the wind out of you,” said Owens, who signed with the Wizards out of the NBA Development League on Wednesday. “You play great defense, and if he makes it, I think we push it up. But that just happens and we have to bounce back.”

The Wizards will host the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday and welcome the Celtics back to Verizon Center for their home finale two days later. “We made too many silly mistakes,” Crawford said. “You can’t do that against a team like that.”

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Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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