By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Since Gilbert Arenas went out of the lineup with a left knee injury on Nov. 17, the Washington Wizards have shown that they are capable of beating the NBA's lower- and middle-class teams.
Taking on the big boys has been another matter entirely.
Apart from an impressive 12-point win at Dallas on Nov. 26, the Wizards lacked a signature victory without Arenas. That changed last night, when the Wizards charged back from a nine-point second-half deficit against the team with the best record in the NBA and took down the Boston Celtics, 85-78, in front of a sellout crowd at Verizon Center.
The Wizards (19-16) pulled it off thanks to a mixture of clutch shot-making, determined rebounding and sticky defense. The big shot was a three-pointer by Antonio Daniels that gave the Wizards a 75-74 lead with 1 minute 51 seconds remaining.
After Boston's Kevin Garnett turned the ball over on the next possession, Wizards guard DeShawn Stevenson drew a foul on Paul Pierce while attempting a three-pointer from the top of the circle and Stevenson, a 72.9 percent free throw shooter coming into the game, made all three.
Stevenson capped the win by throwing down a two-handed dunk with 3.2 seconds remaining. He then yelled something in the direction of the Boston bench before tossing the basketball into the stands.
"What did I say?" said a grinning Stevenson, before referencing Boston's super-intense Garnett. "I said something KG would say, put it that way. And it wasn't edited."
The Wizards deserved to celebrate after pulling out their most impressive victory of the season. Boston (30-5) had won 10 straight on the road but were held to 13 fourth-quarter points, shot 41.3 percent for the game and turned the ball over 21 times. Boston's "big three" of Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen shot a combined 1 for 9 from the field and totaled five points in the fourth quarter. The 78 points were a season low for the Celtics.
The Wizards finished with a 49-30 edge in rebounding.
Stevenson, who was a key factor in Friday's overtime victory at Atlanta, led the Wizards with 19 points and was 8 for 8 from the free throw line. Antawn Jamison finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds, and Butler added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"I think guys realize now that just because Gilbert Arenas isn't here, the season's not over," said center Brendan Haywood, who came up with a key steal and a crucial offensive rebound down the stretch. "We still have some capable players here and we can still make some noise, make it to the playoffs and possibly get some things done. This definitely gives us some hope and confidence."
Last night's game was similar to close contests the Wizards played against top teams such as San Antonio, Detroit and Phoenix in that they gave maximum effort and were in the game in the fourth quarter.
The difference between those losses and last night's victory was that the Wizards didn't collapse after Boston threatened to blow the game open in the third quarter.
"It is a hard game to explain and describe other than to say it was very, very physical," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "They are a very good team. They are an extremely good defensive team. All that being said, we forced 21 turnovers. We only had 13 assists but we out rebounded them. We forced them to shoot 41 percent. Those are the numbers. What you don't see is exactly what we dug down deep for, a lot of mental and physical toughness."
The Wizards and Celtics play again Monday night at TD Banknorth Garden when the teams meet in a rare home-and-home series. In Boston's Nov. 2 season opener, the Wizards were pounded, 103-83.
Boston has not lost consecutive games all season and typically has pounded its next opponent following the rare slip-up.
"We know what we're in for when we go up there on Monday," said Jamison, who posted his 23rd double-double of the season. "The crowd is going to be crazy, they are going to be jacked up so it's going to be another challenge for us. It feels good to get a victory against the best team in the NBA but it will be even better if we could get one at their home court also."