BOSTON — For one game, the Washington Wizards harnessed the essence and energy of their past success. They rediscovered their mojo on a court that has produced so much sorrow for more than three years against a team that inspired so much hate that every player banned the color green from their feet for this special Christmas matchup.
Washington rallied for a 111-103 win over the Boston Celtics on Monday night, taking down one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference at TD Garden — the torture chamber in which it had lost nine consecutive games dating back to April 2014. Last season, the Wizards had their hearts ripped out here in Game 7 of the conference semifinals.
"This win means a lot to us," Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. said. "It's Boston. On Christmas. It couldn't get no better than that."
And the Wizards, by a wide margin, have played no better game in the 2017-18 season so far.
When Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving pulled up for a three-pointer over the outstretched arm of Markieff Morris with 6:18 to play, the Celtics opened their largest lead of the game at 95-90. But John Wall, the point guard who earned an all-NBA spot last season over Irving, closed the game with a stronger effort by showing the depth of his skill set.
Wall had spent most of the game lofting bricks to the rim or falling like one to the court. During one play, Wall got hit by the friendly fire of Marcin Gortat and felt as if a bone in his nose had broken. But Wall played on. It has been a point of pride for him to keep going despite his mounting bumps and bruises — even though on nights like Monday he requires postgame attention from the team's athletic training staff. Still, Wall remained on the floor for 39 minutes and responded to Irving's shot with a tough step-back jumper with the shot clock running low.
"I missed all of the easy shots but make the toughest one of the night," Wall mused, "and we kind of got momentum."
From there, the Wizards shocked the Celtics with a separating 12-0 run to take command in the clutch. Wall either scored or assisted on 20 of the team's final 26 points.
"There are some games he doesn't have it offensively but he tries to do his best to impact the game," Coach Scott Brooks said of Wall, who finished with 21 points and 14 assists against only one turnover. "Tonight I thought he had all phases of the game. Made big plays for his teammates."
Sparked by their small-ball lineup, the Wizards picked up the pace on both ends, and forward Kelly Oubre Jr. could not contain himself during the run.
"I pulled Kelly to the side and told him to stay in the game because mentally . . . sometimes we get lost and forget [Oubre] is out there and we don't swing him the rock," guard Bradley Beal said. "He's a big-time scorer for us, a big-time shooter and a finisher at the basket. I just told him to stick with it."
After Wall sank the jumper, Oubre scored on consecutive possessions — a layup, then a corner three that gave the Wizards a 97-95 lead. When Oubre disrupted Celtics guard Terry Rozier on the other end and created a turnover, he faced the fans sitting on the baseline and screamed in delight. Oubre was just as animated after serving up an assist to Morris for a dunk with 1:21 remaining — announcing to Boston, and possibly the NBA, that Washington could once again make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
"It brought me back to the playoffs and all the good memories we had in here," said Oubre, who was benched during Game 7 but made an impact Monday night with 16 points and five rebounds, including three under the offensive glass.
If the pile of discarded Christmas-inspired Nikes in the locker room didn't get Oubre going — holiday be damned, no player wanted to wear green shoes in Boston — the boos from the Boston faithful must have. In the final six minutes, however, the Wizards silenced the announced sellout crowd of 18,624 and all that could be heard were the guttural growls of Oubre.
"The fans [were] chanting crazy stuff. It just brought me back to a place where it got me locked in, man, like it was the playoffs," Oubre said. "So it was a great atmosphere there."
Beal led all scorers with 25 points on 10-for-25 shooting, as every Wizards starter finished in double figures to help Washington overcome a deficit on the home floor of the Celtics, who fell to 27-10.
"It goes back to our record versus teams over and under .500," Beal explained. "I guess you can call it one of those situations. This is Christmas Day. Anxiety's going. This is the team that beat us last year. We had every reason in our mind to come out and play with energy and play with focus, the right way. We just got to realize if we play like this every night, we're going to be capable of winning every game."
Each starter accepted and played his role, clicking like the unit that led Washington to last year's postseason run. Gortat grabbed rebounds and shifted from protecting the paint to racing to the perimeter to defend threes — he finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. And while Beal scored from all over the court, Wall stayed true to his point guard duties, controlling the offense for six assists compared to four shot attempts in the first half. Morris, who spotted up for a corner three-pointer to start the game, combined with Porter to create a spread frontcourt that accounted for 5-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Porter shot an efficient 7 of 10 for 20 points.
By the third quarter, this collective effort, as well as Oubre providing the bench scoring, led the Wizards to their biggest advantage of the game at 65-54. Boston closed the gap to 80-76 by the start of the fourth quarter and eventually pulled ahead by five — a lead that didn't last long against a motivated Wizards team.
"You have to do this for 82 games and not let the ups and downs of a long season control your emotions or your energy," Brooks said, "and I thought tonight was as good as we could possibly play."