The Boston Celtics probably are not what they once were; with age and the post-Ray Allen chemistry problems for a team that was just one victory away from reaching the NBA Finals.
But the Wizards can’t worry about the opposition too much as they attempt to establish an identity of their own in the absence of John Wall and Nene. And the past two losses to the Celtics have made it easier to determine what it will take to possibly get some wins in the next few weeks.
That begins with having an effective low post presence in Kevin Seraphin and capable, aggressive wing players surrounding him, be it Jordan Crawford or Bradley Beal. Crawford wasn’t at full strength because of a sprained left ankle during the Wizards’ 100-94 overtime loss on Wednesday at TD Garden.
But the Wizards were able to swap his production for a more engaged Beal, who scored a career-high 16 points and topping his combined total from the first two games. Beal needed 15 shots but the Wizards were encouraged that the rookie didn’t settle for strictly being a jump shooter or fall into a shell when his shot wasn’t falling earlier. He was on the attack.
“Coach told me when he took me out the first time, ‘I don’t care if you keep missing,’ he said, I was just being aggressive,” Beal said. “So I was just proud of myself doing that. That got me back to having fun. I was laughing on the court, having a ball and eventually it just started flowing to me. It just felt right.”
The Wizards also have to feel pleased that Chris Singleton finally arrived for the season as well. Singleton wasn’t even an afterthought in the first two games, playing just 18 seconds in the previous loss to Boston. But he was instrumental in helping the Wizards come back from an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit as he scored 12 of his 14 points in the period.
“It’s fine. I am a professional,” Singleton said, when asked about his limited playing opportunities in the first two games. “So I know that I’ve got to keep working and my time will come. That’s it.”
His time came in emphatic fashion late in regulation, as he scored the final four points, including a ferocious, one-handed jam over Kevin Garnett after the Celtics left him open to key on the other shooters. “I saw KG under the basket and I had him before in the fourth quarter and I went in and missed the layup. That was like, ‘I got to go in there harder.’ I made the move and finished the play,” said Singleton, who silenced the crowd in the process. “It feels good and we should’ve had that. If we didn’t have those turnovers at end, [Celtics fans] should’ve been [quiet] the whole
fourth quarter and overtime.”
The downside of having too many players on the court unfamiliar with the stage is that mistakes are more than likely to occur, and the Wizards committed 19 turnovers in the game, with many coming late.
Point guard A.J. Price (15 points) and Seraphin combined for 12 miscues. Seraphin needed 19 shots to score 16 points as the Celtics made shutting him down a major priority. Boston has typically refused to double-team Dwight Howard, so Seraphin should be flattered that the Celtics sent so many traps his direction. But he also needs to get prepared, because as his offensive game continues to improve, teams will look for different ways to stop him.
“That was tough,” said Seraphin, who kept his string of consecutive games in double figures intact at 18. “I have to take my time again. That was better than the last time. I still need to learn and I’m learning right now.”
The Wizards are also learning that Seraphin is making a difference by forcing teams to swarm his direction and allowing his teammates to get open looks. Coach Randy Wittman finally put Beal on the floor with Seraphin and he got perhaps the most open look he’s seen all season, burying a corner three-pointer that put the Wizards up 38-34 in the third quarter.
Martell Webster also benefited from Seraphin’s presence, as he matched Beal and Price with a team-high three three-pointers and scored 16 points off the bench.
“We’re right there. Played these guys close again,” Webster said. “Gave ourselves a chance again. We’ve got to get better in that overtime situation and execute down the stretch. Usually [the Celtics] are must-see TV in the fourth quarter and overtime. I think we did a great job and showed we can play on the road.”
The Wizards had a chance to win a game despite Boston attempting 27 more free throws. That’s not a typo. Kevin Garnett took more free throws (12) than the Wizards and Paul Pierce matched them with seven. The Celtics were 28-34 from the foul line and the Wizards were 6-7.
“Getting outshot 34-7 at the free throw line? I can’t understand that,” Wittman said.
Washington didn’t attempt a free throw until Beal absorbed contact from Paul Pierce, made a difficult runner off the glass and converted a three-point play to give them 49-44 lead in the third quarter.
“We just have to be aggressive and go to the basket more. We relied too
much on our jump shots,” Beal said.
Wittman, though, continues not to rely on newly acquired players, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Neither appeared in the fourth quarter for the second game in a row. Okafor has yet to play in the fourth quarter this season.
But Wittman is leaning on the players who produce and he had several options in Boston, where five different players scored in double figures for the first time this season. And that didn’t include Crawford, who had just two points in 15 minutes after leading the team in scoring in each of the first two games.
“J.C. tried to play. He did what he could when he wasn’t 100 percent and I appreciate that,” Wittman said, adding that he was pleased to see Beal step up. “It’s important for our team to have. This isn’t about individuals; it’s about guys learning how to play and Bradley’s part of that. Kevin’s part of that. A lot of guys are in that spot and Bradley came out aggressive. This is probably the best game he’s played so far.”
Beal made his first field goals in more than a week, snapping a string of 12 consecutive missed shots with a first-quarter three-pointer. That gave him the confidence to keep competing and he eventually made a huge three-pointer to put the Wizards ahead by one late in the fourth.
Beal may be moving out of his individual slump, but he is still hoping to get that elusive first win. He’s certain that will come soon enough.
“I think we have confidence in this team to be able to think we can win plenty of games this year against the top teams in the league, so it’s really up to us,” Beal said. “We know the Celtics is a great team and we know that we have the potential to be a great team as well, so we’re not going to back down form anybody, we’re just going to keep competing.”