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Celtics 104, Wizards 102

Celtics tested by Wizards

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 11, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The Celtics found themselves having to heed their own warning.

Before the season, coach Doc Rivers figured that if there was a team everyone was forgetting about in the Eastern Conference, it was Washington.

So far, the Wizards had given the league every reason to look away. They were a disappointing 7-12 entering last night and their new coach, Flip Saunders, had gone so far back to the basics that he was reteaching how to set screens.

The Celtics still saw a dangerous team, one that could light up the scoreboard and clean the glass - a point of particular emphasis for a Celtics team that had been streaking, but had also been called out by its coach for not hitting the boards hard enough.

The Celtics went into Verizon Cen ter and picked up their ninth straight win, 104-102, but the Wizards gave them their biggest scare in a while, taking Boston to the final minute before fading in front of 20,173 fans.

Rajon Rondo scored 21 points and dished out 11 assists. Ray Allen scored 18 points, passing the 20,000-point plateau. Kendrick Perkins put up a double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds). And Kevin Garnett finished with 17 points. The Celtics shot 49 percent from the floor and picked up their fourth straight win over the Wizards dating to last year when they swept the season series, but it didn’t come easy.

The Celtics got into a shootout early on before building a 14-point halftime lead. A 20-6 run by Washington to start the third quarter turned that lead to dust and put the Wizards up, 72-70, midway through the quarter. Allen settled things down with a 3-pointer that was as fitting as it was timely, giving him 20,000 career points and putting the Celtics ahead, 73-72.

“When I say we’re not a 48-minute team, that’s proof right there,’’ Rivers said.

Paul Pierce, who scored 12 points to eclipse 19,000 in his career, agreed.

“I thought we just played down to the level of our competition in the second half and that’s something we want to keep building on,’’ Pierce said. “We played one half of basketball tonight and we have to continue to get better.’’

And in the fourth quarter, when it looked like the Celtics could keep Washington at bay, the Wizards got clutch buckets from Antawn Jamison (16 points, 8 rebounds) and Gilbert Arenas (25 points on 11-of-23 shooting), and surprisingly big buckets from backup forward Andray Blatche (17 points).

The Wizards were within 91-90 with three minutes left when Garnett hit a 17-footer. Rondo scored two critical baskets down the stretch, including a strong dunk over Blatche that put the Celtics up, 100-98, a lead they would never relinquish.

“It was really the ‘Rondo and Kevin Pick-and-Roll Show,’ ’’ Rivers said.

“Rondo has the ball and we try to get the guys open; when he’s penetrating and getting the lane, he’s loosening guys open,’’ said Pierce. “And the way they played him, they were sagging guys off him, they were content on backing off Rondo and giving him that jumper [and] he was able to knock it down.’’

Rivers had criticized his team for its rebounding, but the Celtics beat the Wizards, 40-34, on the glass. The advantage was 11-0 in the second quarter, helping Boston open its biggest lead of the night, and Rivers took it as a sign that his team is capable of winning the rebounding battle more consistently.

“It’s just amazing that when you focus on something that well, you do it,’’ Rivers said. “But that’s something we have to improve on.’’

Perkins said, “I take it personal from a big standpoint. That’s really my job, blocking shots and rebounding. So I feel like if I do a better job of that, we’ll have a better chance of winning.’’

Garnett grabbed five rebounds, all on the defensive glass.

“It starts with the bigs and I really look at myself as being a better rebounder than what I’ve been,’’ Garnett said. “Rebounding is timing, it’s effort, and I’ve just got to put it together. Perk and I, it starts with the two of us and we will get better as the year goes on.’’

“We still won,’’ Rivers said. “That’s good on the road, and we’ll take that.’’

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