By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011; 12:59 AM
Circumstances were taxing enough for the Washington Wizards, playing their second game in as many nights and third in four days. Then consider that the opponent was reigning Eastern Conference champion Boston, and the degree of difficulty swelled that much more.
Yet in an improbable turn, the Wizards overcame what seemed a blueprint for certain failure by scoring their most consequential victory this season, 85-83, on Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 20,278 at Verizon Center, which at times had the ambience of a Celtics home game.
Prized rookie point guard John Wall provided the winning points with a three-pointer off the glass with 57 seconds left to break a tie at 81. When the ball fell through the netting as the shot clock expired, Wall raised both arms, igniting a raucous ovation after Washington's first and only three-pointer of the game provided the defining moment to date of his brief professional career.
"I didn't call it," Wall said of his unlikely game-winner, which also gave the Wizards their first lead. "I knew it was going to hit backboard, but I thought it was going to be a hard brick. It could have broke the backboard, but luckily it went in for us, and it was a momentum changer."
After Kevin Garnett's layup whittled the margin to one, the Celtics had a chance to go ahead on Paul Pierce's jumper, but his shot rattled off the rim with three seconds to play, and Wall completed the scoring by making 1 of 2 foul shots to end Boston's five-game winning streak and curtail Washington's losing skid at two.
Wall finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists and managed to stay in the game when it mattered most despite five personal fouls. Rashard Lewis, playing with tendinitis in his right knee, had game highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Wizards (13-29), who improved to 13-9 at home and logged their second win of the season against a team with a winning record at the time.
Garnett finished with 17 points for Boston (33-10), which also got 16 points from Ray Allen and 13 points and nine assists from Rajon Rondo, who along with Pierce weathered foul trouble in the second half. Boston shot 43 percent, well below its 50.5 mark coming into the game, and missed 11 of 15 three-pointers.
"When we play defense, we give ourselves a chance to play against anybody," Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said. "Our defense was great the second half. We took advantage of some mismatches. Rashard went at Paul a little bit and got Paul in some foul trouble. There's no question getting him in foul trouble is a big key. You take out a huge part of what they do as far as offensively."
Facing a quick turnaround following Friday night's 109-91 loss to Phoenix, Washington began making a game of it in the third quarter thanks largely to an 8-0 run that reserve guard Cartier Martin capped with a putback. That basket got the Wizards to 63-62 with 5 minutes 37 seconds to play in the period and brought the fans out of their seats anticipating Washington perhaps taking its first lead of the game.
The Celtics got a turnaround jumper from Garnett and a three-pointer by Allen to push the margin back to six, but the Wizards tied it at 70 on Andray Blatche's 22-footer with 27 seconds left in the third. Shortly before that field goal, the Wizards got an alley-oop dunk by JaVale McGee (16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks) and the only basket of the game from starting guard Nick Young, who had been 0 for 8 and finished just 1 for 13.
Boston regained the lead on backup guard Nate Robinson's jumper just before the third-quarter buzzer, but Al Thornton collected Wall's pass on the fast break to tie it at 72 early in the fourth quarter. The Celtics scored five of the next seven points, including a field goal and a foul shot from Pierce, to regain the lead, 77-74, before Wall got inside for a field goal that cut it to one and set up the tense final minutes.
Playing short-handed in the back court compounded the demands on Wall, who until roughly three hours before tip-off was the only healthy point guard on the roster. Kirk Hinrich had played the position in spots this season when Wall was resting on the bench, but the veteran hyperextended his right elbow against Phoenix and was inactive. Hinrich is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on his elbow in the next day or so, according to Saunders.
With options dwindling rapidly approaching Saturday night's game, Washington signed rookie guard Mustafa Shakur to a 10-day contract. Shakur played for the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers, with whom he averaged 16.7 points, 5 assists and 4.7 rebounds in 23 games.
Shakur arrived in the District around 3 p.m. and was the first player on the court for the team's pregame shoot-around several hours later. He made his NBA debut with the Wizards trailing by 13 late in the first quarter and after Wall had picked up his second personal foul. Shakur finished with five points and a team-high five assists in 10 minutes.
"Not only is it a win, but you beat the Boston Celtics, so it most definitely gives you confidence," Lewis said. "Now all we've got to do is try to win a ballgame on road."