With the shot clock running down in the game's final minute, John Wall banked in a three-pointer that quieted much of the crowd and gave his team the lead for good.
Honestly, this was a road game for the Wizards.
In the midst of a sold-out arena, the majority of the fans were wearing more green than blue as the Wizards rallied to beat the Boston Celtics, 85-83 Saturday night, overcoming a big, early hole one night after Wall had openly challenged his teammates for their lack of heart and fight.
With help from a D-Leaguer who arrived three hours before tip-off and made his NBA debut and assistance from what several Celtics called the "basketball gods," Washington snapped Boston's five-game winning streak and provided some momentum that could help the Wizards end their 0-20 road start when they visit the New York Knicks on Monday.
"I think tonight you should give us a road game because there were more Boston people here than Washington," Washington coach Flip Saunders deadpanned. "So we're 1-20."
Wall had 16 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Wizards, who improved to 13-9 at home. Wall was constantly nagged by Rajon Rondo on offense, but his fast-break layup with 2:35 to play gave Washington its first lead. Then after the Celtics tied it, Wall made his team's first and only three-pointer of the game to put Washington ahead 84-81 with 58 seconds remaining.
John Wall was honest after the game and claimed that he didn't call bank.
"I knew it was going to hit backboard, but I thought it was going to be a hard brick," Wall said. "It could've broken the backboard. Luckily, it went in."
The shot was probably what Boston deserved after it blew a 16-point, first-quarter lead. The Celtics shot 68 percent in the first quarter but 33 percent for the rest of the game. They went especially cold in the fourth quarter, shooting 5-of-23 and scoring their lowest point total (11) for any quarter this season. The last miss came when Paul Pierce misfired on a potential game-winning 18-footer in the final seconds.
"Let's just say that was the basketball gods punishing us for the way we played," said Boston coach Doc Rivers, using a term echoed by Pierce and Ray Allen in the locker room.
Rashard Lewis had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and JaVale McGee added 16 points for the Wizards. Mustafa Shakur, who signed a 10-day contract from the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers earlier in the day, scored only five points but was an essential spark plug in the first half after Wall had to sit with two fouls.
And, for a change, all the Wizards showed resilience after the Celtics took a 35-20 lead after the first quarter. Washington had pulled within 10 by halftime, and then the same team that Wall claimed had "no heart" and "no fight" in the third quarter of an 18-point loss to Phoenix on Friday showed plenty of spunk and spirit in the same period against the Celtics. The Wizards started taking the ball to the paint and drawing fouls, and the deficit was only two points headed into the fourth.
"We just came out with more energy," Wall said. "Everybody in the locker room was talking about it. We got out there and went through the layup lines really hard and got a sweat and that's what we need to do. Most of the time we go out there for the third quarter, everybody's just walking around lackadaisical like it don't mean nothing. That's when the game is won, in the third quarter."
Kevin Garnett scored 17 points for the Celtics, Allen had 16 points and Rajon Rondo had 13 points and nine assists. The Celtics played without Shaquille O'Neal, who didn't make the trip because of a sore right hip, but that was no excuse for not putting away the Wizards early.
"My problem was the pace. We were walking the ball up the floor," Rivers said. "We dribbled the life out of the game."
By the fourth quarter, the Celtics were out of kilter. Pierce sat down after picking up his fifth foul, and Allen missed an uncontested dunk. Glen Davis had a great chance at a garbage layup and couldn't convert—Boston's seventh consecutive missed field goal—then committed a frustration foul on the rebound.
"This should have been a game," Pierce said, "where the starters should have been resting in the fourth quarter."
The Washington Wizards are now starting to convince some that they can still contend for the eighth seed in the playoffs.
- The Wizards had a sellout for only the second time this season. A visit from Miami provided the other one.
- Washington signed Shakur because Kirk Hinrich sprained his elbow Friday. Shakur's No. 22 jersey looked as if the numbers had been sewn on at the last minute by someone's mom—they weren't in the same location as his teammates' numbers.
- Hinrich will have an MRI to check for ligament damage.
- Shaq, injured in the first quarter of Friday night's win over Utah, sat out his 10th game this season. Rivers said he'll have an update on Shaq when the Celtics resume practice Monday. "If it was something to be concerned about, I probably would have been told. So I'm just assuming that it's nothing that bad," Rivers said.
- Rookie Semih Erden started in place of Shaq for the Celtics, who are missing Kendrick Perkins and Jermaine O'Neal with long-term injuries.
- The Wizards played back-to-back games at home for the first time since November 2005, which is good considering that they haven't won a road game yet.