Opening night on Abe Pollin Way began pretty much as scripted: The Boston Celtics, a perennial playoff contender anchored by two future Hall of Famers, exposed the John Wall-less Wizards for what they are — a collage of third- and fourth-chancers, some not-ready-for-prime-time kids and one of the most anonymous rotations to begin an NBA season.
But then something unexpected happened, something no one saw coming.
The roster you never heard of competed.
These castoffs, the Cartier Martins and Janerro Pargos, made a more talented, experienced squad sweat, turning a quiet Saturday night at Verizon Center into one filled with thunderous applause in the final 10 minutes.
After a putrid first quarter, when they fell behind 17-2 with four minutes left, after weathering “Let’s Go Celtics!” chants from a sellout crowd littered with green with less than two minutes left, the Wizards found a heartbeat. And it kept pounding.
Well, okay, until Martell Webster took one of the ugliest last-tick shots you’ve ever seen along the left baseline, a shot he didn’t need to take that soon because more than two seconds remained.
The ball went out of bounds, the Celtics shot free throws and that was it:
Order was restored in the Eastern Conference food chain, and Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo left town preserving their creaky-kneed, battle-scarred rep for the moment.
There is a major concern in Boston whether the Celtics’ window of championship opportunity — seemingly forever open in the Garnett era — has finally slammed shut. The Celtics came into Saturday 0-2 and looking straight ahead at 0-3 before the very end. But they survived, quelling their detractors for a day.
In the home locker room, the questions are much more sobering and, if we’re being honest as a real hoophead, outright depressing:
It’s becoming almost trite to point out the effort given by an inferior roster — and with the current injuries to Wall and Brazilian center Nene this is, by most accounts, an inferior roster.
Kevin Seraphin has the potential to be special, no question. Even though he threw away a pass with 28.2 seconds left that hurt, he had a sparkling night with 19 pretty points, many from inside the paint, in his return from injury.
In a way, it’s impossible to judge this group until both its point guard and center return because the players on the court were essentially brought here so they could mesh with those two.
Still, on so many off-kilter, bad possessions, you just want to shake your head and go, “What is he doing?”
Some basketball sages I know think Jan Vesely’s game is very one-dimensional, all activity around the basket, no real touch or discernible nose for defense. They call the Wizards’ second-year forward Yawn Vesely.
And contrary to popular opinion, Jordan Crawford is not a ball hog. He has met more than one shot he didn’t like. Unfortunately, most of them are the ones taken by his teammates. He’s actually not a bad passer, but he plays like so many of his teammates: afraid that he’s not going to get the ball back in a very poorly executed offense. So he just jacks it up to make sure he gets his.
There are moments that give you pause, make you see the future. When Trevor Booker puts the ball on the floor and bulls his way inside, when Bradley Beal clogs a passing lane or Crawford actually becomes more flammable than selfish.
But mostly, you get Emeka Okafor outrebounded by his counterpart; Trevor Ariza and Beal trying to find their strokes; extended periods of empty possessions.
Then there is the ambience. The “WHO WANTS A FREE T-SHIRT?” hype man, who is mostly an assault on the senses. The KissCam, which is cliche but still worth a laugh.
The cheese-and-cornball factor works, of course, when the basketball is good, when the Wizards are in the game, they care and the building is loud. But those moments are not enough.
Saturday night was a thriller until the end, and it gave you great reason to come back and enjoy the fight and heart of an outmanned club. From whence this franchise came, that’s something. But the feeling you leave with as they take down the baskets and turn off the power is the one you came with:
When is that window going to open for Washington?
The real concern here is that it’s going to take a lot more than a healthy John Wall and Nene to make that happen.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.