On one of the rare times Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce missed a shot on Sunday, Andray Blatche corralled the rebound and fired a full-length pass down the court to Nick Young for a vicious one-handed jam.
Admiring his work, Blatche stopped at half court, looked over at the Washington Wizards’ bench and smiled as he struck his version of the Heisman trophy pose. Blatche later joked that he’s “a quarterback,” showing a playful side that he hid the past few games as fans at Verizon Center expressed their displeasure by booing him.
Blatche played through the distraction, just as Young was able to fight through a left hand injury. But even as John Wall continued his inspired run of late — coming close to a triple-double with 27 points, a season-high 10 rebounds and seven assists — the Wizards couldn’t avoid a 100-94 loss to the undermanned Celtics.
“We’ve gotten to the point where 10 days ago, we weren’t competing at a high level,” Coach Flip Saunders said after his team suffered another close loss at home. “We’ve gotten to the point now where we’re competing at a high level. Now we’ve got to find a way to close out these games like we did close out against Oklahoma City.”
The Celtics provided the Wizards (2-14) with an opportunity to steal their first win in three tries against the team, as Rajon Rondo missed his second game with an injured right wrist. Ray Allen then came up limp in the second quarter with a jammed left ankle and missed the remainder of the game.
But if anything has been consistent in the three games these teams have played this season, it has been that the Celtics need only two of their all-star quartet to be effective to have a chance to upend the Wizards. And on Sunday, Boston really just needed Pierce to get going and Kevin Garnett came along for the ride late. Pierce had 34 points and 10 assists, abusing every defender Saunders put on him. He made light work of rookie Chris Singleton, veteran Rashard Lewis and guards Young and Jordan Crawford. Late in the game, Wall asked Saunders to give him a shot, but by then the damage had been done.
“He’s a great player for a reason,” Wall said of Pierce.
Garnett (17 points) made back-to-back baseline jumpers to give the Celtics a 61-46 lead in the third period, but the Wizards responded with a 29-16 run over the next 10 minutes, tying the score at 75 when Wall found Trevor Booker for a dunk.
Crawford (12 points) and Pierce both received technical fouls for talking trash during the run. “You can’t back down from nobody, no matter the circumstances. And I just felt it was needed at the time,” Crawford said of his exchange with Pierce.
While the Wizards had the initial spark from the double technical, Garnett credited it for inspiring the game-altering sequence in which the Celtics outscored the Wizards 18-11 as Pierce scored or delivered the pass that set up all of the points. “They started talking a little garbage to him, a little trash. We call that, ‘hitting the button.’ Truth hit the button,” Garnett said of Pierce.
The Wizards led 84-83 with 6 minutes 6 seconds left after Young caught the pass from Blatche and dunked on Mickael Pietrus, picking up a taunting technical for cursing and flexing afterward. “All of a sudden, we got ahead, and the ball had Velcro,” Saunders said, complaining of the lack of ball movement in the final minutes.
Pierce made a driving layup to give the Celtics (6-9) a 93-86 lead and the Wizards had several more questionable offensive possessions down the stretch, including Young taking a poor three-point attempt in the corner despite being double-teamed by Garnett and Pietrus.
Washington also had a questionable breakdown on defense after Crawford made an 18-foot fadeaway jumper to bring the Wizards within three points with 2:19 remaining. Garnett got the ball at the free throw line, pump faked to get Wall and Booker off their feet, then waltzed inside for an easy dunk to put Boston ahead, 95-90.
Blatche had eight points and eight rebounds, silencing the jeers early on when he drove inside and dunked over Jermaine O’Neal, but he was held scoreless in the second half. He spoke afterward about being relieved that he could finally play freely. “It’s good to get back to having fun. The boo birds was gone, so it gave me more confidence to just go out there and play,” Blatche said.
Crawford couldn’t find any consolation in another close loss. “Not when you’re losing. Not when you’re losing, it doesn’t matter. We’re playing better, but we’ve got to get some wins,” Crawford said.