The Celtics struggled and stumbled through most of regulation against the Washington Wizards Wednesday night at TD Garden. But they got their act together in overtime for a 100-94 victory, their second over the Wizards in four days.
“Well, we won the game and, right now, that’s the type of team we are,” coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re not playing great. It’s good to win a game like that. We’ve won two like that.”
The Celtics had several chances to clinch the result against a Wizards team weakened by the loss of Nene and John Wall. But the Celtics missed free throws and defensive assignments, and failed to execute out of timeouts, down the stretch.
But they had periods of cohesion and continuity, and finished things off strong.
After the Wizards’ A.J. Price scored on a shot-clock buzzer drive 1:15 into overtime, the Celtics rallied, going on a 7-2 run over 1:46, Brandon Bass’s drive giving them a 95-92 edge with 1:51 remaining.
Bradley Beal airballed under pressure from Rajon Rondo out of a timeout and Kevin Garnett (20 points, 13 rebounds) grabbed a Chris Singleton miss, leading to a Bass transition dunk to make it 97-92 with 37.7 on the clock.
Then the Celtics hung on, despite failing to inbound, losing possession on a five-second violation, giving up a second-chance possession, and captain Paul Pierce losing his dribble attempting to run out the clock.
“When you play a team back-to-back, they kind of know your tendencies, they know what you’re trying to accomplish,” Pierce said. “But, you know, it’s early in the season and we’re still trying to come together, offensively. We still want to play better offensively but I was happy with the way our defense played.”
Pierce (15 points, 10 rebounds) was off target most of the night, going 2 for 12 from the field. But Jason Terry (16 points) provided a perimeter threat in his best performance since joining the Celtics this season. And Rondo (18 points, 14 assists) produced five jumpers (including a 3-pointer) on a 7-for-11 shooting night.
The Celtics experienced the second-quarter letdown, which has characterized their performances this season. After getting off to an 11-2 start, and leading, 28-22, early in the second quarter, the Celtics soon faded. Washington went on a 20-7 run over a 4:49 span, taking a 42-35 lead on a Singleton follow with 1:47 left in the half.
But the Celtics got into gear early in the second half, regaining the lead, 50-49, as Rondo and Terry hit 3-pointers in a 28-second span.
The Celtics’ defense kicked in, limiting Washington to one field goal over 7:05 – a buzzer 3-pointer by Price – as they closed the quarter with a 12-2 run over the final 3:23.
Pierce’s three-point play increased the edge to 71-60 with 10:10 left in the contest.
But the Celtics lost some momentum as Rondo committed his fourth foul. A Terry 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer kept the Celtics ahead, 80-76, with 4:45 remaining. But that would be the only Celtic field goal until the final seconds of regulation time, when a Rondo pullup out of a timeout gave them an 88-86 edge with 26.4 seconds on the clock.
Singleton dunked out of a timeout to tie with 9.4 seconds left. Rondo then missed a 20-footer out of a timeout.
“The first one was, I called the [isolation],” Rivers said of the Rondo shot which gave the Celtics their final regulation time lead.
“We felt like, let’s go two for one here, and it was a quick ‘iso’ for him. The second one, it was bad execution again, honestly. I thought Rondo made up his mind to go for it – I’m fine with that but I didn’t like the execution.”
That symbolized the Celtics being sloppy and out of synch. But there were moments of serendipity and smoothness, as well.
“It’s about playing 48 minutes of Celtic basketball,” Terry said.
“Tonight we played in spurts and that’s not going to be good enough for us. So, we’ll be back at practice and working hard and building for the next game.
“On this team, that’s what it’s about, that’s what we hang our hat on, on the defensive end of the court. The game is on the line and we needed to get stops, we turned it up to another level.
“ So, for us, the process is can we get that level for longer stretches of time? We know we can do it now, when it’s time to get the win, but can we do that in the first, second, the third quarter? That’s the test for us. But we will get there.”
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org