WASHINGTON — The Celtics are eerily beginning this much-ballyhooed season just like last year’s post-lockout campaign — and that’s not a good thing.
After jumping out to an early 16-point lead Saturday night against the undermanned Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center, the Celtics flirted with disaster several times before scoring the final 5 points for an 89-86 win.
Kevin Seraphin hit a turnaround with just under three minutes to play to give the Wizards a 86-84 lead, but Paul Pierce (27 points) hit a 3-pointer with 2:35 left and the Wizards were held scoreless the rest of the way. However, the Celtics wasted several chances to pad the lead by missing easy shots, including a Kevin Garnett jumper that rolled off the rim with 5.1 seconds left.
The Wizards, totally out of synch, were relegated to a Martell Webster forced 3-pointer from the corner that missed badly. The Celtics gained possession and Jason Terry came through with two free throws with 1.2 seconds left after being fouled by Jannero Pargo.
Rajon Rondo collected 12 points and 12 assists while Garnett scored 15 points with seven rebounds.
Washington was led by the combination of two bench players, Jordan Crawford (21 points) and Seraphin (19 points), who teamed for 40 points and 11 rebounds.
The Celtics again dominated the Washington starters, going on a 16-10 run through the first 6:16 of the third quarter to extend the lead to 65-52. That’s when Crawford and Seraphin sparked another run with their impeccable shooting to reduce the deficit to 71-67 at the end of the third.
After three quarters, Crawford and Seraphin were a combined 15-for-20 shooting with 35 points while their teammates were 12 of 36 for 32 points. Crawford is a crafty scorer who used his shifty moves to create space. Seraphin shot over Garnett or used his girth to gain post position.
Although Boston played solid defense otherwise, Doc Rivers’s frustration after every Crawford basket was apparent.
Randy Wittman had little choice but to go with his bench with his starters getting pounded by the Celtics’ counterparts. Crawford and Seraphin sparked a 17-8 run to begin the second quarter that shrunk the Celtics’ lead to 34-29.
Seraphin’s athleticism gave Garnett problems while Courtney Lee closely defended Crawford, who still responded with a series of difficult runners.
With the Celtics threatening to lose a 16-point lead, an unlikely source came through with a nice long-distance touch. Rondo canned consecutive 3-pointers in a span of 1:22 to increase the lead to 42-33. Pierce followed with a beautiful fake move and layup for a 46-37 advantage.
Trevor Booker countered with a spinning layup to slice the lead to 49-42 at the break. Washington shot a stunning 66.7 percent in the second quarter and scored 30 points, the sixth 30-point quarter the Celtics have yielded this season.
Rivers mentioned his club lacked a sense of urgency in the past two games and it appeared his players listened. The Celtics made a definitive statement against the undermanned Wizards as Pierce opened the night with a 3-pointer 17 seconds into the game.
The Celtics continued with their offensive flurry, scoring 17 of the game’s first 19 points. Garnett was aggressive in the paint. Jared Sullinger was active around the basket and Rondo was distributing the ball with precision. The Celtics didn’t allow a true field goal until a Booker layup at the 3:53 mark; Washington scored its first basket on a Garnett goaltending.
The Wizards began the game 3 for 17 while the Celtics shot 50 percent in the first period, getting 7 points from their bench.
Jeff Green, playing his first game in his hometown since aortic surgery, got off to a rousing start with a driving dunk down the baseline late in the first quarter as the Celtics led, 26-12, after one.
It was the first time this season they led after the first quarter, but the final three frames would be as struggle as the Wizards would fight back.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.