Weary Celtics get a lift from tireless Allen
The grinding at TD Garden could be heard throughout the region last night. The Celtics were a step slow, turnover prone, and heavy legged after polishing off the Washington Wizards Sunday night in the nation’s capital. Their aging bodies were in for a taxing evening in a rematch with the young pups.
Unlike many occasions last season, when the Celtics dropped ragged decisions in the second games of back-to-backs, they managed enough strength and execution to stave off Washington’s persistent rallies and the catalyst was their oldest player, 36-year-old Ray Allen.
His play this season has been a shining example of his tireless and sometimes obsessive work ethic. Running the streets of his neighborhood on off days, sprinting full speed and stopping inches from the 3-point line and then launching hundreds of shots. Personal two-a-days following practice.
Games are the just reward for those reclusive offseason days. When the Celtics sorely needed a lift, Allen scored 11 of his 27 points in the final period. His 3-pointer with 1:30 left gave the Celtics an 8-point lead and they held on for a 100-92 win.
The Celtics have won three straight after dropping their first three and are tied for first in the Atlantic Division, a testament to this bizarre, lockout-shortened season. But one thing that can be counted on is Allen’s immaculate conditioning and his 3-point shooting.
Allen was 6 of 7 from deep last night, raising his season percentage from .552 to .611. He leads the Celtics in scoring at 20 points per contest.
After the game, Allen stunned the media when he revealed he had been battling a cold all day.
“The minute I sat down in the locker room afterwards my nose started running and I started coughing again,’’ he said. “Any time you have any small issue, you always focus a lot more. It’s like that little bit of playing around you do, you cut that out and you focus more.’’
Allen spent the fourth quarter saving the Celtics from a potential embarrassing loss. He canned a 3-pointer for a 75-74 lead with 8:56 left. He had a leaning 17-footer for a 6-point lead with 5:13 left, and then came back with another 3-pointer 43 seconds later.
The game Wizards kept chipping away, refusing to relent. Andray Blatche, who allowed Kevin Garnett to annoy him with mind games Sunday, drained three free throws to reduce the deficit to 92-87 with 2:06 left. After a Celtics turnover, Paul Pierce stepped in front of a lazy John Wall crosscourt pass, pushed the ball, and found Allen again on the right side for the clinching 3-ball.
“Marathon man. He was great. He just kept going. I would never want to guard that guy,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Allen. “He just never stops moving. I can’t imagine the miles Nick Young had to [cover] because he had to chase him all game. But he made some big shots.’’
The Wizards (0-5) were poised to get their first win but wilted down the stretch. Blatche led Washington with 28 points, 18 more than his total from the previous evening. JaVale McGee added 17 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks, but a 12-2 Boston run midway through the fourth quarter was the difference.
Pierce scored a season-high 21 points on 8-for-18 shooting while Rajon Rondo added 13 assists.
“I think I just got into a better flow with the offense,’’ said Pierce, averaging 14 points over three games. “It’s going to take me some time. Maybe seven, eight, nine, 10 games before I really think I can get it going and really be consistent out there so it’s good to see some shots go down.’’
For the first three quarters, the Celtics were unable to create any distance from the Wizards, who gained confidence as the game progressed. It was apparent the Celtics were a tired bunch and Washington countered with fresh bodies as it pushed the tempo.
In one sequence, Greg Stiemsma scored on a layup and then slipped on the way back down the floor, only to watch his counterpart, McGee, collect a lead pass for an easy dunk.
Washington used a 6-0 run to take a 58-56 lead with 7:21 left in the third quarter and the teams traded baskets the rest of the period.
Keyon Dooling drained his first field goal of the game with 21.9 seconds left in the quarter to cut Washington’s lead to 70-69, setting up a frantic final period.
Sluggish and hideous would be the best ways to describe the first half for the Celtics, who were enduring their second back-to-back of the season. In the first set, the Celtics looked strong in a close loss to Miami, and then wilted and were embarrassed in a 19-point loss at New Orleans.
An early sequence sparked the Wizards. When Stiemsma, who replaced the injured Jermaine O’Neal in the starting lineup, blocked a jumper by Rashard Lewis and the two tumbled to the floor, Wizards coach Flip Saunders went ballistic at the non-call.
He ran past midcourt to argue with official Greg Willard and was promptly ejected with 10:14 left in the first quarter.
Washington started playing with more confidence, and it was almost good enough to unseat the Celtics.