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Isaiah Thomas outduels John Wall as Celtics hold off Wizards

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Isaiah Thomas was fouled by Wizards center Nene (right). Thomas led the Celtics in scoring with 32 points.Alex Brandon
Celtics 119
Wizards 117

WASHINGTON — Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas has made no secret of his desire to be selected for his first All-Star game this season. He has encouraged an Internet campaign to earn enough votes, and his famous friends, including boxer Floyd Mayweather, have publicly vouched for him.

And on Saturday night, he went up against a point guard who does not need a campaign and already has what Thomas wants.

Washington's John Wall is a two-time All-Star who is almost certain to make it three in February, and for long, captivating stretches of this game, the two raced back and forth like they both had something to prove.

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Both players sparkled, but in the end, Thomas came out on top, as he tallied 32 points and five assists and, most importantly, his team grabbed an important 119-117 win, its third in a row.

When asked about the head-to-head matchup, Thomas pointed out that he had played just 32 minutes while Wall had been on the court for 44, perhaps helping account for his dazzling stat line of 36 points, 13 assists, and 7 rebounds. Thomas said with a smile that he would have finished with 50 points and 10 assists — and a win — if he'd played that many minutes.

Of course, he got the win anyway. And as spectacular as Wall was, he will probably remember his night most for the one play he failed to make.

The score was tied at 117 with 13.9 seconds left and the Celtics had the ball out of a timeout. Thomas brought the ball upcourt and passed it to Marcus Smart at the left arc. Smart lofted a perfect feed to Jae Crowder, whose layup with four seconds left put the Celtics in front.

Four seconds, of course, was plenty of time for Wall to race the other way and get off an open layup. Smart and Avery Bradley collided as they raced back on defense, and that was the only opening Wall needed. But when he arrived at the rim, his lefthanded layup slipped off of it, and a putback attempt came after the final buzzer.

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"I was going fast as heck," Wall said. "I just looked up at the clock and tried to get it off the glass. I should have dunked the ball, but I didn't have enough energy to do that."

"Ninety-nine times out of 100," Thomas said, "he's making that [layup.]"

Wall's miss capped a frenetic ending that included clutch shots, crucial rebounds and a bizarre shouting match between Crowder and Wizards coach Randy Wittman that nearly cost Boston the game.

With 1:11 remaining, a steal and dunk by Wall pulled the Wizards within 111-110. Bradley missed a desperation 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down with 43.9 seconds left in the game, but Crowder tipped the ball near midcourt, where Evan Turner recovered it. After a timeout, Bradley hit a 3-pointer to put the Celtics ahead, 114-110.

With 22.8 seconds left, though, Amir Johnson fouled Wall on a 3-pointer. Wall missed the first free throw, but Crowder was whistled for a technical foul. After the game, Crowder said that Wittman had been yelling at him from the Wizards bench and that it had crossed the line.

"I felt like he was getting away with a lot of curse words and inappropriate words to me," Crowder said. "And I retaliated."

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Crowder said he was caught off guard by Wittman's comments and that he had never had an issue with him, and had never had a problem with any opposing coach in the middle of a game like that.

Gary Neal made the technical free throw, and then Wall made his next two to pull the Wizards within 114-113. The Celtics led, 116-115, when Washington purposely fouled Johnson with 15.4 seconds left. Johnson made one of two attempts, and Smart fouled Garrett Temple on the rebound, and Temple's free throws tied the score at 117 with 13.9 seconds left.

But during a timeout, Celtics coach Brad Stevens drew up the winning play, as Thomas dribbled upcourt and fed Smart, whose pass to Crowder for the layup was right on the money.

"Brad knew exactly how they were going to play it," Crowder said. "I wanted to front on the post to clear the back side for me with no back-side help, and just throw it over the top, and me make a play."

Crowder had 22 points and 8 rebounds. Jared Sullinger added 14 points and nine rebounds, and Boston made 32 of 36 free throw attempts.

The back and forth between Thomas and Wall brought some buzz to the Verizon Center. Thomas said the two had been facing off since high school, when Wall emerged as the No. 1 player in the country and Thomas was still busy trying to prove doubters wrong.

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On Saturday night, the two had some friendly but competitive banter.

"We were joking around the whole game just about you need to guard me, I guard you," Thomas said. "We're just competitive, two guys trying to win a game."

And by game's end, with the intensity rising, players on both benches were jawing back and forth. Thomas said he welcomed that intense vibe, and he knows it could linger when the teams face each other again here in just nine days.

"Their bench was talking mess; we were talking mess," Thomas said. "So it's just two teams battling. If it is that, I'm all for it.

"I'll ride with my guys in this locker room just like those dudes will probably ride with theirs. It was a competitive game and I'm happy that we got the win."


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.