WASHINGTON -- A four-day layoff left coach Doc Rivers and the rest of the Celtics longing for game experience. They got just what they wanted from the Wizards, and then some.
In the end, Boston played five minutes too many last night at the MCI Center, losing to Washington, 110-105, in overtime. It was a demoralizing defeat considering the Celtics came back from a 17-point, second-quarter deficit, took a 12-point lead into the fourth, and Paul Pierce had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation.
Tossing up one fadeaway jump shot after another in overtime, Boston never gave itself another chance to take home a victory. The Celtics did not score in the extra period until Ricky Davis hit a 19-footer with 12.9 seconds remaining. Needless to say, it was too little, too late. While both teams finished shooting 28.6 percent (2 for 7) in overtime, the Wizards built an insurmountable lead with an 18-footer from Antawn Jamison (27 points), a pair of free throws from Larry Hughes (21), and a driving layup by Gilbert Arenas (25).
"We should have taken the ball to the basket far more than we did," said Rivers. "We did it in the third quarter. That was the whole halftime talk. Attack the basket. Attack the basket. We did it, then we got away from it. I kept saying it, but we just didn't do it. That'll happen."
Rivers sounded almost resigned to coaching a team capable of unpredictable swings. While he did not exactly shrug off the loss as a learning experience, Rivers acknowledged the growing pains that come with a young team and a newly constituted core group of players. As they watched a three-game winning streak come to an end, the Celtics showed their best and worst sides, veteran savvy and youthful inexperience. And that was just in the second half.
Shaking off obvious rust from the layoff, Boston entered halftime behind, 55-42, giving no clues about the kind of unselfish, team play that would come in the third. After all, Boston shot 38 percent in the first half and recorded almost as many turnovers (9) as assists (10). But with a commitment to rebounding and attacking the basket in the third, the Celtics put together a staggering show. They outscored the Wizards, 42-17, shot 65 percent (13 for 20) from the field, went 14 for 15 from the line, and committed just two turnovers. Meanwhile, Washington shot 29 percent, committed nine turnovers (for 14 points), went to the line just five times, and narrowly lost the battle of the boards (8-7).
The entire quarter should be considered one run for the Celtics, who wasted no time evening the score, 59-59, by opening with a 17-4 spurt. Boston took its first lead since the opening minutes when Payton stepped to the line for a pair of foul shots with 5:16 to go in the quarter. The free throws started a 17-5 run, which was capped by a 6-footer from Al Jefferson.
"In the third, we attacked them," said Payton (17 points, 7 assists). "We got back in the game. We got fouls and they were on their heels.
"We were flat in the first half and I was flat. So, at halftime, Doc told me I needed to motivate us a little bit more and I went out and motivated us. We had a good third quarter. We built up a good lead. Then, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, we didn't start off well and they got the momentum."
The second unit started the fourth and surrendered 6 points in less than two minutes, as Washington opened the quarter with a 15-3 run to tie the game, 87-87. The Wizards regained the lead (93-91) when Jarvis Hayes hit a 3-pointer with 5:50 to go in regulation. It remained a one-possession game down the stretch with three ties, though Boston never retook the lead. With the score tied, 100-100, and 37.3 remaining, Rivers called a timeout to plan what he hoped would be a game-winning possession for the Celtics. But after missed jumpers on both ends, Pierce heaved an off-the-mark 17-footer at the buzzer.
"I wanted to get it a little closer to the basket, but I saw help defense," said Pierce (37 points). "I think I started too late to get into my move, and it kind of took me out of where I wanted to shoot the ball. I missed the shot. That's part of the game. We went into overtime and we fell down. We had our chances."