BOSTON — Nene faked out Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett at the foul line, forcing Garnett to pause for an expected pass and then blowing past him with a left-handed dribble. Celtics forward Brandon Bass slid over to help Garnett, but Nene was undeterred, dropping an emphatic slam as Bass ducked for cover.
Afterward, Nene glared back at Bass, took two big steps then ran down the court, dreadlocks bouncing all the way. With one final chance to beat Boston and add the last notch on their belt of fallen Eastern Conference playoff contenders, the Washington Wizards were going to need to play with some force and physicality away from home.
But after Nene’s powerful jam brought his team within one early in the third quarter at TD Garden, the Wizards shrank the rest of the way — as they often do on the road — and succumbed to a 19-3 ambush over the next seven minutes that led to a 107-96 loss.
“They know how to play, they know basketball,” Nene said after the Wizards (29-48) were swept in three meetings against the Celtics, who have the seventh-best record in the East. “They exploit the advantage on the post. They rotate right, they play with each other and they play with confidence and we got right there, but it wasn’t enough to stop Boston.”
The Wizards’ playoff chances were officially dashed last week, placing them in position to chase minor goals, such as ninth in the conference. After defeating the Indiana Pacers on Saturday at Verizon Center, the Wizards needed to get a win over the Celtics to claim at least one win against the top eight teams. They lost the first two games against the Celtics by a combined nine points in November, when they didn’t have either Nene or John Wall. Boston Coach Doc Rivers said before the game that he didn’t even study film of those contests because of how much the team has changed.
“It’s like slow motion when you watch our [two] games earlier in the year. It’s not the same team. They are just a different team,” Rivers said, while mentioning Wall’s influence on the Wizards.
Wall led the Wizards with 16 points and a game-high 10 assists, but the Celtics neutralized him after a 10-point first-quarter outburst and limited him to 3-of-13 shooting the rest of the way. With the Wizards unraveling late in the third period, Wall got upset that he didn’t get a foul call on a drive and collected a flagrant foul when he chased down Shavlik Randolph and gave him a slight nudge into the basket stanchion.
“I don’t see why I got a flagrant,” Wall said. On the previous play Wall said: “I drove, got hit in the air, my head hit the ground. I just went for the ball [against Randolph]. I was trying to block the shot. I wasn’t trying to hurt nobody.”
Wall was unable to repeat the magic of the night before, when he exploded for 37 points in a romp against the Pacers and the Wizards lost their fifth consecutive road game because they didn’t have many other offensive options to pick up the slack — and they didn’t play with the necessary defensive intensity. They fell to 7-31 away from home.
Bass scored a team-high 20 points, including eight in the third period, when the Celtics outscored the Wizards, 31-19, and shot 75 percent. The Celtics (40-37) shot 55.8 percent for the entire game as the Wizards surrendered 100 points for just the second time in their past eight games.
“I think the problem was before that,” A.J. Price said after scoring 15 points. “The score may have indicated the third quarter was the problem, but in the first half, we didn’t play our style of defense. They scored way too many points and it was all because of the first half. The early part of the game felt like a pickup game; both running up and down, doing what we wanted to do.”
The Wizards were reunited with Jordan Crawford, the confident backup shooting guard who was dealt at the trade deadline after he had grown disgruntled with his diminished role. Wall predicted that Crawford would be “fired up” for the game, even as Crawford pretended that he never played for Washington when asked about facing the Wizards.
Crawford made his two first jumpers and finished with six points, but Randolph actually proved to be the player who came back to haunt his former team. The Wizards cut Randolph during training camp and he was forced to go to China before returning to the league with the Celtics. He entered the game with Boston leading by six points and his infectious energy contributed to the Celtics scoring eight straight points. The run only ended because Randolph was called for goaltending on a jumper by Trevor Ariza (14 points).
Garnett returned to play his first game since March 22 after missing the previous eight games with an inflamed left ankle and finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
The Wizards had to finish the game without forward Trevor Booker, who suffered a bruised tail bone in the second quarter when Courtney Lee’s knee collided with his backside. Booker said he hoped to available when the Wizards play on Tuesday in New York.