Celtics 104, Wizards 95
For three quarters, the Washington Wizards -- in particular Jerry Stackhouse -- made baskets in droves and put on a display of uniform basketball that addressed some of the concerns Coach Doug Collins sweated over entering the game.
Then things turned foul for Washington, literally.
The Boston Celtics, down by three entering the fourth quarter, outshot the Wizards 23-13 from the free throw line in the final period to rally to a 104-95 victory tonight in front of 15,229 at FleetCenter.
The Celtics had only taken 12 free throws after three quarters but spent almost all of the fourth period making 21 of 23 free throws as a foul was called on seemingly every Boston possession. Boston, which was in the bonus from the foul line less than four minutes into the last period, only took 13 shots in the foul-marred fourth.
The Celtics outscored Washington 33-21 in the final quarter to pull away from what had been an exciting, close game. When the Wizards got their few chances to counter the Celtics from the foul line, they struggled, making 8 of 13 in the fourth, 25 of 34 overall.
"I thought we did a good job but what hurt us was they shot  free throws in the fourth quarter," Wizards Coach Doug Collins said. "Once they got in the penalty, especially Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, they're tough to defend."
Washington, which lost its final two preseason games to finish 5-3, has five days to fine-tune things before the season opener Wednesday at Toronto. Boston ended the preseason 4-4.
Pierce, who had a team-high 31 points, was 10 of 15 from the line, 8 of 10 in the final period. Stackhouse led the Wizards with a game-high 36 points.
The Wizards didn't dwell so much on the fourth-quarter collapse or the fact that they lost. Players and coaches said they felt much better about the way they played over the first three quarters, when Stackhouse went on a scoring spree, the offense flowed smoothly and players competed harder than they had in a while.
"We got out and got up and down a little more," said Stackhouse, who made 11 of 15 shots and was 11 of 11 from the foul line. "We wanted to get our aggression up, get back to trying to push the ball up the floor. We were able to do that. We got in a rhythm, the ball was moving and we got some good looks at the basket. I was able to knock some shots down."
Stackhouse, guarded predominantly by Pierce, made his first five shots, rang up 20 by halftime, added 10 in the third -- two on a spectacular turnaround 20-footer at the shot-clock buzzer -- but had just four in the fourth, as he was limited to two shots. Boston cranked up its defense on Washington's perimeter players, often leaving the Wizards' big men wide open.
Forward Kwame Brown (11 points, six rebounds) was the only Wizards big man to make himself a factor, Collins said, a potential problem that opponents are sure to exploit. Centers Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas combined to go scoreless and grabbed a total of five rebounds. Collins used Brown a lot at center in the second half.
"Our big guys are going to have to be more aggressive," Collins said.
Michael Jordan played 23 minutes for the second straight game and looked far more active than he has thus far. He finished with 14 points, 4 assists and 2 steals, but has yet to find a steady shooting touch (5 of 13). However, for the first time in three games, he seemed far more intent on playing within the scheme instead of working to get his game going.
He and Stackhouse played well together for the first time, with Jordan delivering passes to Stackhouse when the attention came Jordan's way.
"We're coming," Jordan said. "It's another game to learn from. We're going to be all right when the time comes."
Turnovers (21) continued to be a major problem as did Washington's interior defense. The Celtics outscored the Wizards 48-20 in the lane, getting several easy buckets in transition (24 points) after Washington turnovers.
Wizards Note: Swingman George McCloud, who Washington acquired Thursday in exchange for point guard Chris Whitney, is not expected to take his physical in Washington until Monday. His roster status remains uncertain, though, according to league sources. There is a chance he could be waived by Washington, which must cut two players by Oct. 29 to reduce its roster to the NBA-maximum 15.