BOSTON — The Washington Wizards arrived at TD Garden without a win. And within two minutes of their game against the Boston Celtics, they were without their head coach. But the sight of Coach Flip Saunders stomping on the parquet floor, screaming at referee Eli Roe after Celtics center Greg Stiemsma fell on Rashard Lewis and didn’t get called for a foul, sent a charge through a team that has lacked intensity for the early part of this season.
Saunders wouldn’t stop when Andray Blatche tried to restrain him, and when he finally walked off the floor after being ejected with 10 minutes 14 seconds left in the first quarter, reserve guard Jordan Crawford patted him on the backside.
“I think that lit a fire under the team,” Lewis said afterward. “The guy landed on top of me, and it was clearly a foul. [Saunders] stood up for his players. Even though he was in the locker room, we stood up for him, as well.”
But an inspired effort — summarized by Blatche playing through severe pain in his left foot throughout the second half — was not enough to overcome a determined, championship-tested Celtics team that held the Wizards at bay and made huge shots down the stretch, as Washington lost, 100-92.
“That’s how we have to play every game. For us to be successful, we’ve got to compete like that,” Blatche said after he scored a season-high 28 points with nine rebounds. “We should just build off it, and know that’s what it takes for us and it’ll carry over to games. If we played like this at the beginning of the season, everything about our record would be different.”
The Wizards are off to an 0-5 start for the first time since the 2008-09 season, but they were encouraged by a performance in which they were engaged from start to finish and never fell behind by double digits. They continued to push the tempo, force turnovers and take advantage of their superior speed and athleticism. It wasn’t enough to compensate for the Celtics’ savvy and ability to perform under pressure.
“It’s no fun being 0-5, we also have to look at it another way,” said Wizards assistant coach Randy Wittman, who filled in for Saunders. “It was the hardest we’ve played, as well as we’ve played together. Right now, with a team like this, you try to teach them how to play and how to win, you have to have steps like this. Did we get the win? No. But we played them down to the wire. I thought the effort for 48 minutes was as good as we could ask for.”
With 10:20 left in the first quarter, Lewis missed a baseline jumper and Saunders immediately shouted at Roe, asking how he didn’t call a foul on the play. Saunders thought that Lewis was fouled twice — first when Stiemsma appeared to hit Lewis’s elbow on the shot, and then when he toppled over him.
Ray Allen buried a three-pointer on the other end, but Saunders wasn’t done. After Roe gave him a technical, Saunders ran onto the court to chase down Roe, then grabbed his left arm, seeking an explanation for the non-call and the technical.
“I didn’t know I was coaching until about halftime, it happened so fast,” Wittman said with a laugh.
The Wizards kept Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett from having repeat performances from the previous night, when Rondo had a triple-double and Garnett had a turn-back-clock, flashback game. But the Celtics have four all-stars on their roster, and Allen and Paul Pierce were more than capable of carrying the offensive load. Allen scored a game-high 27 points, Pierce had a season-high 21 and both players made crucial three-pointers in the final minutes as the Celtics (3-3) won their third consecutive game.
Blatche lost his individual matchup with Garnett the night before, as the Celtics’ big man had more points, rebounds and tallied extra credit for gamesmanship. But Blatche refused to let Garnett get into his head on Monday night. The Wizards’ forward met his taunts by playing his best game of the season and possibly shook the season-long “funk” that has clouded him to this point.
Aside from JaVale McGee (17 points, 14 rebounds, three blocked shots), the Wizards didn’t get much production from the back court or the bench.
John Wall had 11 points and Nick Young had 10, but they combined to shoot 7 for 27 from the field. Young admitted to having a hard time chasing down Allen, who connected on 6 of 7 three-pointers. “Ray Allen is nonstop,” Young said. “It was tough for me, all night, trying to run off screens and get something going on the offensive end.”
The Wizards led, 74-72, when Blatche made a baseline jumper, but the Celtics went on a 12-4 run and never trailed again. Blatche got fouled on three-pointer and made all three free throws to cut the Celtics’ leads to 92-87, and the Wizards made an impressive defensive stop as Wall blocked a Rondo jumper. But as Wall appeared to recover the loose ball, his outlet pass to Young for what could’ve been an easy layup was halted when officials called the Celtics for a 24-second shot-clock violation.
Wall then tried to find Lewis in the corner, but Pierce stole the ball and found Allen for a three-pointer. After Wall made a short runner in the lane to bring the Wizards within four points with 51.9 seconds remaining, Pierce answered with a three-pointer that put the game out of reach.
“We don’t want to lose games, but we had fun out there playing,” Wall said. “We trust each other, helped each other, defensive-wise and offensive-wise, we played together and if we keep doing that, we can win these type of games. They are a championship team, playoff team, that knows how to play down the stretch, that’s something we’ve got to figure out how to do.”