By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2008
The big, bad Boston Celtics came to town last night flaunting a trio of all-stars, the best record in the NBA and riding a seven-game winning streak. But that was hardly a concern for the Washington Wizards, who also flaunted three all-star caliber players and already had two wins against the Celtics this season.
A sprained right shoulder kept forward Antawn Jamison sidelined for the past two games. But if that was supposed to be a concern for Jamison, he showed no fear as he calmly drilled shots from outside and added his usual unorthodox runners. Jamison scored a team-high 27 points and punctuated his return in the third quarter of the Wizards' 109-95 victory when he drove around Boston's Kevin Garnett and dunked in front of Kendrick Perkins.
"I'm not used to being on 'SportsCenter,' " Jamison said with a laugh. "It happened. It's not going to define whether we make it to the second round or the Eastern Conference finals. It's just letting the young fellas know I still got it."
The Wizards won their third game in a row and made a statement to the rest of the league that they've got something on the Celtics, who suffered their second-worst loss of the season. Jamison's dunk certainly caught the sellout crowd of 20,173 at Verizon Center off guard, but the Wizards' success against the Celtics should no longer be considered a surprise.
The Celtics won the first meeting, 103-83, on Nov. 2, but the Wizards beat them in back-to-back games in January, including a dramatic rally at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston on Jan. 14, when Washington came back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to win, 88-83. The Wizards are the only team in the NBA with three wins against Boston and it was only the third time in franchise history that Washington has won the season series against the team with the league's best regular season record. It also swept the 2005-06 Detroit Pistons, 3-0, and the 1997-98 Utah Jazz, 2-0.
"I don't know if you can hang your hat on that," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "We don't hang our hat on the fact that we beat the Celtics three times. It was a game that we wanted to play at a high level, compete against the best team in the league and we did it. I'm happy with the effort and how we executed."
Celtics Coach Doc Rivers didn't play all-stars Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in a win last Saturday against Charlotte, and none of them played more than 23 minutes the night before in Milwaukee. All three played more than 30 minutes last night, with Pierce scoring a game-high 28 points. Garnett had 22 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
Rivers said the win should give the Wizards some confidence should the teams meet again in the second round of the playoffs. "We hope to see each other," Rivers said. "That means we are still alive. I don't think either team would complain about that."
The Wizards squandered double-digit leads in each half, but found an answer for every Celtics run. Garnett fed Pierce in the right corner for a three-pointer that brought Boston back to 101-95 with 2 minutes 27 seconds remaining, but the Wizards scored the final eight points of the game. Guard DeShawn Stevenson (14 points) made two free throws, then stole the ball from Pierce on the next possession, setting up another free throw for Jamison. Stevenson then buried the Celtics with a three-pointer from the top of the key, waving his hand across his face after giving the Wizards a commanding 12-point lead.
"It was one of those proud, manly games," Jordan said.
Wizards owner Abe Pollin even stopped by the locker room after the game to congratulate his players and thank them. Six players scored in double figures for Washington, which still trails Cleveland for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference by two games.
Gilbert Arenas, playing his third game as a reserve, had 13 points. Caron Butler had 13 points and 10 assists. Brendan Haywood had 12 points and Darius Songaila, who started in place of Jamison the previous two games, had 10. Jamison also had 11 rebounds, giving him 43 double-doubles on the season.
"We feel like we can beat anybody," Butler said. "Not to take anything from what other teams have accomplished, but we feel like we're one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Obviously, we're not getting respect. But when you're not getting it, you got to take it. Watch out for us. We're a force to be reckoned with. We've solidified ourselves as one of the better teams in this league."