When the new-look Washington Wizards were introduced to fans in the home opener on Saturday at Verizon Center, John Wall stood on one end of the bench in a gray suit, with a blue tie and matching handkerchief. Nene stood on the other end, in a black sport coat.
In between them was a collection of players built to complement their skill sets and forced to hold the team together until its two top talents return.
The Wizards showed what it would take to at least stay competitive while short-handed, battling back from an early 16-point deficit to take the lead and trailing by a point in the final minute.
But the absence of experienced options in the closing minute resulted in an errant pass by reserve big man Kevin Seraphin, and later an air ball three-point attempt from backup small forward Martell Webster, forcing the Wizards to settle for an 89-86 loss to the Boston Celtics.
“I was searching to find a go-to guy in that situation,” Coach Randy Wittman said after his team dropped to 0-2. “We just don’t have that now.”
A sellout crowd greeted the Wizards, many of the seats occupied by green-clad Celtics fans while an otherwise apathetic group of supporters sat patiently, waiting for something to excite them. After a receiving a lukewarm welcome, the Wizards provided some entertainment and fans were on their feet until the end. They just couldn’t record a win with so much stacked against them.
Jordan Crawford came off the bench to score a team-high 21 points but was forced to leave with a sprained ankle early in the fourth quarter after former Georgetown star Jeff Green fouled him. Crawford returned but didn’t score again.
“I was mad about that,” Crawford said about the injury, adding that he doesn’t expect to miss any time. “I think it definitely could’ve been a different outcome.”
Crawford and Seraphin teamed up to bail out the starting unit after yet another slow start. Seraphin made his regular season debut after missing three weeks with a strained right calf and scored 19 points. He didn’t waste any time getting himself acclimated, as he made his first seven shots from the field, knocking down hook shots left and right and a baseline jumper with all-star Kevin Garnett defending.
Seraphin finished 8 of 9 from the floor and added seven rebounds. But he was smarting afterward for throwing the ball away with 28.2 seconds remaining, the Wizards trailing 87-86 and Garnett defending him tightly.
“He just like put pressure on me,” Seraphin said of Garnett, “and I was just surprised and tried to pass the ball when I should just take my time. I lost the ball but I’ll learn from it.”
Trevor Booker was the only starter to score in double figures with 11 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. The starting five of Booker, A.J. Price, Emeka Okafor, Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza struggled to establish any cohesion and missed 13 of their first 14 shots, putting the team in an early 17-2 hole.
“Our starts are so bad, you don’t know if you’ve ever going to see daylight again,” Wittman said. “I didn’t know if the sun was coming up tomorrow. That’s how bad it was, to me, sitting there.”
Beal was the last starter introduced before the game and he made simple entrance, slowly walking up to his teammates and shaking their hands. His performance on the floor was even more subdued. He was 0 for 5 from the field, didn’t score until he made two free throws with 9 minutes 14 seconds left in the third quarter and finished with just two points. After pledging to be more aggressive following a poor second half in his debut in Cleveland, Beal was adrift once again. At one point, Jannero Pargo gave Beal a glare after the rookie stopped making a cut and let a pass go out of bounds.
“I wasn’t involved really,” Beal said. “I wasn’t asserting myself. I wasn’t being aggressive. It’s upon me. It’s nobody else’s fault, not the coach’s fault or the players’ fault or anybody. It’s upon myself, I have to be responsible for it. I have to just step up.”
Okafor and Ariza, the Wizards’ two big offseason additions after a trade with New Orleans, were a combined 1 for 10 for just three points. Ariza was scoreless and Okafor’s lone field goal was the result of goaltending by Garnett.
Both players were on the bench for the entire fourth quarter and Beal never returned after getting replaced by a limping Crawford down the stretch.
Crawford and Seraphin combined to score 15 consecutive points for the Wizards in the third quarter, helping them cut a 13-point deficit to two. The Wizards got a bad break late in the fourth quarter when Seraphin blocked a Rajon Rondo jumper with the shot clock winding down and Rondo slapped the ball back into the hoop to put the Celtics ahead, 84-79. Seraphin answered with a layup, then Pargo tied the game with a three-pointer.
After Rondo (12 points, 12 assists) missed a long jumper, Seraphin made a wide-open jumper to give the Wizards a two-point lead with 2:56 remaining – their first lead of the game. Pierce then drained a three-pointer 20 seconds later to put his team ahead for good. Pierce led all players with 27 points.
“Another start to a game, got us deep in a hole,” Wittman said. “We fought, played hard, fought, scratched down the end to pull this thing out, but just couldn’t.”