The Washington Wizards were trailing by six points in the final minute when Andray Blatche drove down the lane and had the ball stripped by Boston Celtics point guard Carlos Arroyo. But as a decidedly pro-Celtics crowd started to cheer at Verizon Center, JaVale McGee refused to let him get free. McGee knocked the ball loose from behind and made a frantic, dash to the basket for a running hook in the lane.
“I felt like some people were trying to get the game over,” McGee said. “I was like, ‘Oh no, we’re going to win it.’ ”
At the time, the comeback still seemed a little unrealistic — until John Wall got fouled while shooting a three-pointer and made all three free throws, Von Wafer got fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws, and then Jordan Crawford forced overtime by making a baseline jumper, with Wafer and Jeff Green crowding him. And, with his team needing another big shot in the extra frame, Crawford took a pass from Yi Jianlian to nail an open three-pointer that proved to be the decisive basket in the Wizards’ 95-94 win in their home finale.
“We just stayed aggressive and we don’t get down on ourselves as we used to,” McGee said after scoring 13 points with nine rebounds and five blocked shots before fouling out in overtime. “We usually just give up, because we don’t have as much confidence as we do now, but we’re good now.”
The Wizards (23-58) are relatively good now, as they have won five of their past seven games and finished out the regular season with four consecutive home wins, including victories over the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks and Celtics. They claimed their 20th home win — the most in three seasons — but the game hardly felt like it was at home. The venue may have been the Verizon Center, but the loudest cheers came from the overwhelming swarm of green-clad fans.
The Celtics lost the day before in Miami and appeared willing to concede the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference to the Heat, doing the Wizards a favor by shutting down starters Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Coach Doc Rivers went with a lineup that featured Glen Davis, Jermaine O’Neal, Wafer and Maryland natives Delonte West and Green.
“We kind of took it at as they was trying to disrespect and not trying to play the other guys, so we wanted to come out and fight,” Wall said after scoring a game-high 24 points and adding nine rebounds and three assists. “Main thing is getting the win in front of our crowd, they support us all year, even though we’ve been up and down and losing so many games on the road. We just want to show them that we’ll fight hard and next year will be better.”
Though the Celtics provided the junior varsity squad, Wafer (11 points) supplied perhaps the greatest gift of the evening, with an embarrassingly bad sequence in overtime. With the Celtics leading 88-86, Wafer had a clear path to the basket for a dunk. Wafer hit the back of the rim with the ball, but didn’t realize he missed. He celebrated and preened for the crowd as the ball shot in the air. And, when O’Neal grabbed the rebound and started to dribble, Wafer finally finished celebrating and turned right into him, the collision forcing O’Neal to get called for a double dribble.
“You can play hard but you have got to play smart, too,” Rivers said. “I thought we covered the first part of that.”
The Wizards scored the next four points, taking a 90-88 lead on a McGee dunk, but after Wafer tied the score at 92 with two free throws, Crawford delivered. Wall drove inside, forcing the defense to collapse, and he found Yi (six points, 10 rebounds) inside. Instead of attempting a layup, Yi turned and fired back to Crawford, who buried the three-pointer and calmly jogged down the floor.
“I ain’t going to lie, it felt good to get that win, man,” Blatche said after scoring 16 points.
Crawford said Wafer’s missed dunk was a crucial play in the game, linking it to a missed dunk by McGee when the Wizards lost, 104-88, in Boston on Friday.
“That’s definitely a deflating play for a team,” Crawford said after scoring 17 points.
The Wizards were fortunate to be in that position, after Arroyo stole the ball from Crawford and found Wafer for a layup that put them ahead 83-77 with 58.2 seconds remaining in regulation. After Wafer made a free throw with 17.1 seconds remaining in regulation, the Wizards worked the ball to McGee, who missed a short jumper. But Wafer was unable to secure the rebound, giving the Wizards another chance to tie. They were able to pull even when Crawford got the ball in the corner, dribbled around Wafer, then buried a 16-foot baseline jumper to tie the score at 84 with 5.4 seconds left.
“I always feel if I can see the basket, it’s a good shot,” Crawford said with a laugh. “I seen the basket. Luckily I made it.”
But there was more luck to come. “There’s no question. You have to be in situations to be lucky, but you have to take advantage when that luck is there,” Coach Flip Saunders said.
The Wizards will finish the regular season on Wednesday in Cleveland. Boston will play the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.