Win Over Boston Is Deja Vu
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
BOSTON, Jan. 14 -- Caron Butler started at his knees and slowly lifted his arms toward the ceiling, a playful gesture calling for some noise from the sellout crowd at TD Banknorth Garden on Monday. The 18,624 fans in attendance couldn't make as much as a whimper, as they looked on in stunned silence.
This wasn't supposed to happen. Not again. Not in the home of the Boston Celtics.
The Washington Wizards, who continue to defy logic without injured three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas, beat the Celtics for the second time in less than 48 hours, 88-83.
If the first time was improbable, the second time was incredible.
Going on an unlikely 25-6 run over the final 5 minutes 57 seconds, the Wizards came back from a 14-point deficit to defeat a Celtics team with the league's best record. Boston had been the only team in the NBA that had not lost back-to-back games this season.
"Real recognizes real," said Butler, who scored a team-high 21 points as the Wizards (20-16) improved to 17-11 without Arenas and closed to within 1 1/2 games of the Southeast Division-leading Magic. "We respect them, they respect us. Obviously, they are one of the better teams in the league, but we're making a name for ourselves as well. We're a force to be reckoned with as well."
The Celtics (30-6) are in their first slump of the season, having lost three of their past four games. They appeared set to avenge their 85-78 loss at the Verizon Center on Saturday, as they took a 77-63 lead with 6:22 remaining when Eddie House nailed a long jump shot.
The Wizards' offense had betrayed them early in the fourth quarter, as they went without a field goal the first six minutes of the period -- and it would've been longer if all-star forward Kevin Garnett hadn't been so kind as to accidentally tip in a Roger Mason miss.
"When our back is against the wall, we always find a way to get it done," said forward Antawn Jamison, who recorded his 24th double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 rebounds. "We said, 'We got one more run left in us.' " Jamison got it started with a three-pointer, and DeShawn Stevenson tied the game at 79 with a three-pointer from the right baseline with 1:08 remaining.
"We felt it was up for grabs then," Stevenson said.
Butler scored 11 points during the decisive run, with seven coming in the final 40 seconds. After Garnett broke the tie with a tip, Butler was fouled as he hit a difficult, off-balance runner over Garnett's outstretched arms. He then extended his string of consecutive free throws made to 38, to give the Wizards their first lead of the second half, 82-81.
Paul Pierce (18 points) followed with two free throws, but Butler put the Wizards ahead for good when he drove around Pierce -- a player whose game he tried to emulate in college at Connecticut -- and hit a driving finger roll off the glass. After Butler added two more free throws to give the Wizards an 86-83 lead, Celtics guard Ray Allen (16 points) had an opportunity to tie the game in the final seconds, but his three-pointer came up short.
Coming into the game, the Wizards expected the worst after they ended the Celtics' 10-game road winning streak with an emotional victory that saw them come back from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit and close with a 15-4 run.
After each of their previous four losses, the Celtics won the game immediately following by an average of 25 points, including a 45-point victory against the New York Knicks after a loss in Cleveland.
No doubt, the Wizards were expecting the Celtics to come out with the same intensity and aggression as they did in the season opener, when Boston hammered the Wizards by 20 points in a game that left the lasting image of Garnett sending Arenas to the floor with a humiliating rejection.
But so much has changed for both teams since that night. Garnett, with the assistance of Pierce and Allen, has the Celtics off to one of the best starts in NBA history, while the Wizards have adjusted quite well to life without Arenas.
"We're getting there," Stevenson said. "It's taking time, but we're getting there at our own pace. We believe in each other at the right time. We doing all this without Gilbert. Imagine if we had him."