By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 8, 2010; D04
BOSTON - The mostly inexperienced and learning-on-the-fly Washington Wizards were in a position in which they are unaccustomed - on the road, dominating the once-removed NBA champion Boston Celtics at TD Garden. JaVale McGee had future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett shuffling his feet nearly every time he came near and had the Celtics adding extra height on every attempt inside the lane. Al Thornton ruggedly attacked the basket, as he prevailed a head-to-head duel with Paul Pierce.
Andray Blatche was handling what Coach Flip Saunders called his "greatest challenge" as a newly-minted go-to-guy, as he scored with relative ease against a Celtics' front line that includes former defensive player of the year in Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and Kendrick Perkins. And, the upset seemed assured when Blatche made a 12-foot baseline jumper to give the Wizards a 13-point lead with 6 minutes, 11 seconds remaining.
But that buoyancy the Wizards used to build that lead simply gave way to bumbling youth, as they succumbed to a game-ending 20-4 run and lost 86-83. "Well, we choked," Saunders said, explaining how the Wizards squandered a huge lead so quickly. "The disappointing thing is we outplayed them for 42 minutes, but we didn't have the gall, the leadership and the know-how to close it out when we had to."
Ray Allen scored a game-high 25 points, including the go-ahead three-pointer with 17.1 seconds, as the Wizards (21-39) lost their third game in a row. Thornton led the Wizards with 24 points and 11 rebounds and missed a potential game-tying three-pointer as time expired. He said there were no excuses for the loss.
"I think guys started playing out of character a bit. We was trying to make the home-run play and that's not how we got the lead. It was very disappointing. They were the champs a couple years back, but we was up  with six minutes left, it should've been a W - easy."
Blatche added 23 points and nine rebounds, but he was held scoreless after giving the Wizards a 79-66 lead. "This is one of the toughest games to lose," Blatche said. "This hurts. We was right there. We had everything how we wanted and the last couple of moments, that messed it up for us. We are all young. We was rushing and we didn't have to. Time was on our side. We all made mistakes. We're all going to grow from them."
Saunders said the Wizards looked "discombobulated" down the stretch, even failing to be in the right position after timeouts. He also was upset with Blatche for engaging in some fourth-quarter in trash talk with Garnett, which helped turn the game in the Celtics' favor. "We beat ourselves by getting them energized, which got their crowd energized," Saunders said. "Dray is wolfing the whole time at Kevin Garnett. You can't do those kinds of things. When you're coming up and establishing yourself, you don't take a guy that's been defensive player of the year and is probably the best power forward and get that guy juiced up to play against you. You got no chance."
Blatche was noticeably upset and appeared to hold back tears as he explained his encounter with Garnett, which nearly got heated when Garnett approached Blatche and tried to wrestle the ball away from him. Blatche appeared to throw an elbow as Garnett continued to taunt him. Blatche later flung Garnett into a cameraman and sent him to the foul line for two free throws. Garnett smiled as he was helped off the ground. Reserve forward James Singleton said Garnett used his "veteran senses" to needle Blatche and get under his skin.
"I see myself as defending myself as a player. I'm a man, just like they a man. If a man is talking to me this close to my face," Blatche said, moving his hand toward his cheek. "I'm going to say something back. He has to respect me just like I respect him. I just, 'Get up out of my face.' He was this close in my face - I can feel his lips touching my cheek - I wasn't bragging saying 'Ah we winning.' It was 'Back up.' "
Blatche and McGee (13 points, 5 blocks) helped hold Garnett without a field goal for the first time since Jan. 27, 1996 against the New York Knicks. It was also the first time in Garnett's career that he attempted at least seven points and failed to make a basket. But Garnett was at the center of two critical plays in the final 97 seconds.
First, Rajon Rondo (15 points) was fouled by Thornton on a fast-break layup that brought the Celtics within two points, 81- 79. Rondo missed the free throw, but Garnett retained possession, batting the ball to Perkins, who found Allen for a wide open three-pointer in front of the Wizards' bench to give his team a one-point lead.
Foye answered with a pull-up jumper in the lane to put the Wizards ahead 83-82 with 1:17 remaining. After Rondo missed a driving layup, Foye missed a three-pointer, but Mike Miller was unable to track down the ball, which rolled from Thornton's hands to Garnett, who dove to floor and called timeout.
"I thought I had it, kind of stumbled on it a little bit," Miller said of the loose ball.
On the next possession, Allen came around a screen and knocked down another three-pointer to give Boston the lead for good.
"It just hurts to lose like that," Foye said. "We was so, so close. We have a lot of talent over here and they have a lot of Hall of Famers over there, but we had this one and we let them get this one."