Wizards' Big Three Has the Celtics' Number

The Celtics' Paul Pierce, who played 37 minutes, sends the Wizards' Antonio Daniels to the court on a drive late in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics' Paul Pierce, who played 37 minutes, sends the Wizards' Antonio Daniels to the court on a drive late in the fourth quarter. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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By Mike Wise
Thursday, April 10, 2008

This was the game that makes the Wizards viable as a playoff team. Holding off the squad with the NBA's best record -- and beating the Boston Celtics three out of four times this season -- enables Eddie Jordan to finally see the possibilities.

For just the second time this calendar year, Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler were on the floor together, where they stared down Boston's Big Three and won a game last night that had all the makings of a second-round playoff series, replete with big stars and what should be humongous television ratings.

Boston already had wrapped up home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. But Boston Coach Doc Rivers remembered what happened to Dallas last season, the way his friend Avery Johnson rested Dirk Nowitzki and the stars of the 67-win Mavericks, who lost their mojo and, shockingly, their first-round series to Golden State.

That's why Rivers brought back Kevin Garnett, who played 31 minutes, late in the game, why Ray Allen and Paul Pierce each played 37 minutes. "Even from afar," Rivers said before the game, the Warriors' stunner made coaches reevaluate how to prepare the No. 1 contender for a championship run.

So Garnett squawked at whoever would listen. Pierce talked junk, too, trying to crawl beneath the skin of Butler the way Butler got in his head in their previous meetings. Not one of the Wizards paid them mind.

Butler instead fired a warning shot afterward when asked about a potential playoff matchup with Pierce: "It'll go down in the second round," he said. "You watch. We find a way to get there, then you'll see a show."

Afterward, Rivers admitted: "They play great against us, no doubt about it. If they were to go against us in the playoff they should have great confidence."

Arenas left pretty trailing passes for teammates and buried a late jump shot. DeShawn Stevenson closed out Boston with a pair of deep three-pointers and a steal, and when it was done, a very important 109-95 win for Washington's confidence, more than 20,000 gave the Wizards the standing ovation they richly deserved.

When Roger Mason Jr. scooted to his left and ducked under the defense with 6 minutes 24 seconds left, releasing a three-pointer that severely hurt the Celtics' comeback hopes, a finally healthy Washington team stood two games back of Cleveland in the East with four games to play.

I don't want to hear that Boston had nothing to play for last night. There is more than a decent chance that the Celtics could encounter the Wizards in the second round. And if this is the last time these teams see each other, it was Washington that left a strong impression that it could go six, if not seven games with the vaunted Celtics.

For one, the Wizards match up about as well as any team with Boston. For some reason, Brendan Haywood's elongated frame gives Garnett fits. Last night, he had 12 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes and made sure Garnett did not rule the Wizards inside.

As savvy a scorer as Pierce is, he's streaky next to Butler, who is about as consistent as small forwards come. Pierce started quickly, dropping in four straight three-pointers to start the game, and outplayed Butler numbers-wise. But at this point in their careers, I like Butler's tough-mindedness over a two-week stretch.

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