Flip Saunders called a time out with 10:11 left in the fourth quarter, and it was almost as if he were reminding his team the boogeyman wasn’t real.
The Washington Wizards, trying to play out a forgettable season, had put the Boston Celtics on the ropes before, going up double-digits late in last month’s meeting. But the experience of a veteran team — and the mind games of a veteran player — slowly led them to unravel.
Andray Blatche was on his way to a 23-point night in that game but Kevin Garnett would get under his skin mean-mugging the 23-year-old so hard that he would later say, “His lips were on my face.”
They wouldn’t be rattled again Friday night.
After that game, Saunders, who had coached Garnett in Minnesota, told Blatche, “The guy that bothers him more than anybody is Tim Duncan, because Tim never says anything he just goes out and plays.”
Last night, Blatche let his play talk.
Coming out of that timeout, the Celtics swatted away an Blatche’s shot, but it bounced to Mike Miller for the putback, putting Washington up, 77-66. The Celtics cut a lead that was once as large as 28 to 6 in the fourth quarter on a flurry of 3-pointers by Nate Robinson, but the Wizards hung on for a 106-96 win.
The Wizards became the second nonplayoff team in a week to stun a Celtics team with championship ambitions after the Knicks dealt Boston a 104-101 loss at Madison Square Garden. Those Knicks had nothing to play for. If anything, the Wizards were playing to prove they were no longer afraid of a team that had bullied them before.
Blatche, unstoppable and unfazed, finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, Garnett (8 points) was ineffective, missing 9 of his 12 shots. Paul Pierce (9 points) was just as cold, going 4 for 12.
Rajon Rondo scored a team-high 17 points to go with 12 assists, trying to keep the Celtics alive in the second half.
From the tip, the Wizards looked like a team with something to prove, closing the first quarter on a 15-2 run, sparked by Nick Young’s 11 first-quarter points.
They ran the lead up to 28 points after a flurry in which Blatche drilled a 3-pointer, finished a fast break with a layup, and knocked down a step-back jumper that made it 47-21.
Meanwhile, the Celtics missed 28 of their 40 first-half shots. They went into the break down, 52-31, narrowly avoided a season low for first-half output (30 points three times.).
The Celtics could have packed it in at the half, but after being booed as they went into the locker room at the break, they outscored the Wizards, 65-54, in the second half, playing to the final buzzer with Robinson (13 ) nailing three straight treys. But when the Celtics put them on the line, the Wizards were able to close it out.
Even though only three games remain, the Celtics still have something to play for. The loss put them a game behind the Atlanta Hawks (who beat the Toronto Raptors) for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.