I Do Not Believe What I Just Saw
BOSTON - Hmm. Where do you begin? That was some win - to put it lightly.
I can honestly say that I didn't expect that one. Like the fans at TD Banknorth Garden, I was silent in the closing seconds on Monday night. My mouth was wide open, my bottom lip was about ready to hit the keyboard, when I realized the Wizards were really going to steal a win in a place that left them with so many humiliating memories last November. They were going to win a game they had no business being in.
After that thrilling win Saturday night, I thought the Wizards would join Cleveland and Detroit and become the third team to beat the Celtics and lose in the second meeting. After all, the Celtics were the only team in the league that hadn't lost consecutive games this season.
Even Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan was expecting the Celtics to come out pretty fired up. Before the game, he said "they've been monsters after losses." And they have, clobbering teams in the game immediately following a loss by an average of 25 points.
But before last night, the Celtics never met the team that beat them in the very next game. And they never met a team like the Wizards, who appear to have their number right now.
How else do you explain how the Wizards let the Celtics build a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and still pulled out a gutsy, 88-83 win?
How implausible was the comeback? Let us count the ways.
1. The Wizards scored 25 points in the final five minutes, 57 seconds of the game. They scored 35 points in the entire first half.
2. Caron Butler scored 11 points - one less than Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen combined - in the fourth quarter after going missing seven of his first 11 shots for just 10 points in the first three periods (Wanna talk about a money player? How does 3-for-6 from the field, 5-for-5 from the foul line, with three rebounds and steal in the final period sound?).
3. The Wizards held the Celtics to just one field goal - a rebound tip by Garnett - in the final 6:22. (Do you realize the Wizards have held their past six opponents under 100 points?)
4. Before the Wizards went on that decisive 25-6 run, the Wizards had missed their first five shots of the fourth period and were outscored 14-4.
5. The run started when Brendan Haywood (14 points, 7 rebounds) was credited with a rebound tip. Actually, Brendan was the closest Wizard to Garnett when he accidentally knocked in a rebound.
6. In their first 34 games, the Celtics had only lost one time this season when they entered the fourth quarter with a lead - against Detroit. The Wizards have come back to beat them in consecutive games.
How much have the Wizards improved defensively the past two months? They held the Celtics to just 37 points in the first half. The Celtics had 37 points in the second quarter when the teams met in Boston on Nov. 2.
Even more unlikely: The Wizards are just 1 Â½ games out of first place in the Southeast Division. Raise your hand if you saw that coming when Gilbert Arenas had knee surgery in late November? Put them down. You know you didn't.
The game had a playoff feel to it. The rebounding numbers were about the same (48 Celtics, 47 Wizards). Neither team shot particularly well (41.9 percent Celtics, 38.6 percent Wizards). Guys were scrapping and clawing for loose balls (all you had to do was check out the pain on Wizards assistant Mike O'Koren's face when James Posey came crashing into him after battling with Jamison for the ball early in the fourth quarter).
After the game, Jordan still wasn't ready to go overboard after beating the Celtics twice. "I don't know if one game catapults into another game to the next," he said. "It depends on how you react after this. You just can't fall flat on your face the next two weeks."
He's right. If they follow up these wins with losses to the New York Knicks tonight and Friday, this would've meant nothing.
The most impressive part about the win, though, was that the Wizards weren't overly excited after the game. They were calm. They walked around the locker room like they did what they were supposed to do.
"Not too many people gave us the chance to get one," Jamison said after they swept the home-and-home with the Celtics. "We've been doing a bit of soul searching here lately, trying to figure out what type of team we want to be. We knew this was an important stretch for this team, and it just shows the type of character we have on this team, as far as always believing."
During the game, a Boston writer asked if I had to pick one Wizard to make the all-star team, which one would it be - Antawn or Caron?
It was like handing me a bag of Lays. I can't pick just one. Both of those guys deserve to be on that squad for the way they have stepped up the past two months.
The numbers they've put up are enough, but the leadership they've provided is something else. You should've seen the way Caron was shouting at his teammates in the fourth quarter, letting them know that the game wasn't over, no matter what the scoreboard said at the time.
Butler admitted that his one-on-one battle with Pierce was special. "You know obviously through the course of my career watching Paul Pierce. When I was at Uconn, always trying to model my game after him. He was the guy that went with the 10th pick [like Butler] and obviously, he wanted to make people pay as well. It was like some big brother type stuff, so it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to go at him like that down the stretch."
I still haven't figured out how you describe that ridiculous shot in the final minute, when Butler drove left, drew some contact and flipped the ball high off the square - and away from Garnett - for a score. That finger roll over Pierce that gave the Wizards the lead for good was simply a smooth move.
Butler's offense saved the Wizards, but Jordan added, "He was just as awesome at the defensive end, he was checking everybody."
Butler help keep Pierce in check after Pierce put Boston ahead 72-63 with a driving dunk (Pierce had just two free throws the rest of the game), but the real unsung hero last night was Brendan Haywood.
Garnett tried to intimidate him all night, talking some serious trash after blocking his shot in the first half, but Haywood stayed with him and made him work for everything he got. He forced Garnett into a difficult shot that clanged off the iron in the final 20 seconds.
As for the Celtics, who have lost three of their past four games, it will interesting to see how they handle their first dose of adversity.
"I think our energy the latter part of the year in January, it's just probably the hardest of the schedule," Garnett said. "It is what it is, everybody in the league is going to go through the same thing so we are not [bad word] and moaning about none of that. We gotta deal with it, just like everybody else had to deal with it.
"It's not gonna be easy, it's a process," he said. "Gonna take our lumps now. I'd rather take them now than later. I'd rather learn now than later."
Point guard Rajon Rondo, who missed the game Saturday, returned from a sore back injury, but he was limited to just 21 minutes. The Celtics have responded to doubters all season, but if there is an area where they are thin, it's in the backcourt. GM Danny Ainge may want to look into adding a veteran point guard, because Rondo is the only real ballhandler on the roster.
"Rondo adds a different dimension to the game," Pierce said, "but that's no excuse, other guys have to be ready to step up."
The Wizards certainly are right now.
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