Celtics off the mark
They lose, draw Knicks in playoffs
WASHINGTON — For obvious reasons, Von Wafer was excited going into last night’s game.
“Too excited,’’ he said.
The Celtics were essentially conceding the Eastern Conference’s second seed. Their 95-94 loss to the Wizards locked them into the third spot, and a first-round playoff matchup with the Knicks. Celtics coach Doc Rivers decided to sit Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo for the night, and let the reserves try to handle the Wizards.
It meant that Wafer, like the rest of the bench, would play more minutes than he had this season. He’d have an opportunity to audition for a spot in Rivers’s playoff rotation.
But Wafer somehow turned it into a one-man clinic on Murphy’s Law.
First, he almost single-handedly sent the game into overtime. The Celtics were leading the Wizards, 83-82, with 17.1 seconds left in regulation when Wafer had a chance to make it a 3-point game at the free throw line. He went miss, make.
With that, the Celtics needed a stop, and they got it when JaVale McGee came up empty on a 6-foot jumper. But when Wafer went to grab the rebound, he juggled the ball then lost it out of bounds under the basket, giving the Wizards another possession that led to a Jordan Crawford baseline jumper.
The Celtics were up, 88-86, in overtime when Wafer sliced through the lane, and elevated for a tomahawk dunk.
He came down and roared at the fans along the baseline.
He had no idea the ball was still live.
The dunk attempt ricocheted off the rim. Jermaine O’Neal grabbed the rebound, but when he went up for the putback, Wafer crashed into his Celtics teammate, causing a double-dribble turnover.
Wafer walked to the other end of the floor mortified.
“I was just excited to be out there,’’ Wafer said. “I wish I could have been a little bit more calm, but I couldn’t help it.’’
Rivers couldn’t bring himself to be upset about it.
“That was one hell of a play,’’ Rivers said. “He did it hard. He went hard and you can play hard, but you have to play smart, too. That’s what we talk about. I thought we covered the first part of that. I don’t think we covered the second part very much.’’
The Celtics fumbled away opportunities to win. Crawford (17 points) shoved the dagger in for the Wizards, drilling a 3-pointer from 26 feet out that made it 95-92.
But if there was any value for the Celtics in the loss, it was getting the second unit on the floor, for better or worse, giving them extended minutes and letting them get comfortable.
The team had gone without practices, the new additions had to learn on the fly, the chemistry was a moonshine concoction at best.
If there was a time to make mistakes and figure things out, this was it.
“That was the key coming into this game,’’ Jeff Green said. “We knew the Big Four wasn’t going to play. It was up to us to just come in, try to build chemistry on the second unit, and just play hard.
“You can make a lot of mistakes but if you make the effort and you make every cut hard, rebound, make that extra effort, it can make up for a lot of things.’’
Last night, Wafer played 45 minutes and scored 11 points.
Green saw the most minutes since coming to the Celtics at the trade deadline (47) and put up a 20-point, 15-rebound double-double.
Glen Davis threw in another 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Jermaine O’Neal scored 15 points and added 13 rebounds.
O’Neal joked with Wafer afterward.
“For him, he’s putting so much pressure on himself, which we all do, because if we ain’t in there we want to do well,’’ O’Neal said. “We’re all prideful.’’
Rivers will likely choose to rest his stars again in tomorrow’s season finale against New York, preparing for the start of the postseason this weekend.
He’ll also start thinking about how he’ll sort out his playoff rotation. But he isn’t expecting many more situations where his bench is emptied in crunch time.
“Let’s just be honest,’’ Rivers said. “Let’s hope Paul, Ray, Kevin, are in in those situations. But one of those guys [the reserves] may be in and you don’t know which guy it will be. So you never know.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.