With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce back in action, and Brandon Bass scoring 20 points to come within a basket of his season high, the Celtics turned it on in the third quarter to cruise to a win over the Wizards.
The Celtics shot a blistering 12-for-16 from the field in the third to build an 18-point lead the Wizards could not recover from. With John Wall struggling to put up 16 points and 10 assists after a torrid start that promised much more, the Wizards were unable to stand up to a Boston team that shot 56 percent.
The Celtics corrected a few problems for them of late. They won the battle inside with a 50-36 advantage in points in the paint and a 38-36 edge on the glass. In addition to Bass’ 20 points, the Celtics had nine players with between six points and 15 points.
Fourth quarter, 1:58, Celtics 103-88: Pierce came through for his coach. With Wall all over him in the left corner, Pierce drilled a heavily contested three to give the Celtics some space. Then, going with the theme of the game, Garnett found Bass on the left wing for a jumper that pretty much seals things. Make it 20 points on the night for Bass.
Fourth quarter, 3:58, Celtics 98-88: Wilcox and Bass are defending their rear ends off, but the Wizards are still getting some decent looks in between the Celtics flying around the court. Things are getting close, so Rivers called timeout to re-insert Garnett and Pierce to take care of things in the final minutes.
Fourth quarter, 5:55, Celtics 96-81: This is as well as Wilcox has played in weeks, and Garnett’s return probably has a lot to do with that. Wilcox is 6-of-7 from the field for 13 points and also has five boards.
But mostly, Wilcox just looks sharp on both ends. He and Bass have even played off each other with some nice interior passing (no, seriously) to generate an easy bucket for Wilcox.
Fourth quarter, 8:51, Celtics 94-77: The Wizards are trying to make things interesting, but Garnett might have finally gotten his legs under him. After Wall hit his last three shots, Garnett locked down Nene in the post and picked off Nene’s bounce pass attempt to a cutting A.J. Price. Garnett then tossed the ball ahead to Lee, who was blocked, but Wilcox scored an and-one layup by hustling after the play.
On the offensive end, Garnett has hit his last two 18-foot jumpers after looking out of rhythm in the first three quarters.
End of third quarter, Celtics 87-71: While Wall floundered, Bass surged.
Bass’ fingerprints were all over a 19-3 run that boosted the Celtics into a lead that reached as many as 18 points in the third quarter. He rumbled down the lane for a two-handed slam as Okafor and Kevin Seraphin parted like the Red Sea, then hit a crazy fallaway 20-footer as the shot clock expired.
Wall, meanwhile, just started to rediscover his stroke. He threw down a dunk with 55 seconds left in the quarter for his first points since the first quarter. He added a floater as the quarter expired, making him 2-for-8 from the field since his 5-for-7 start.
Third quarter, 6:10, Celtics 70-58: As Garnett tries to get his legs back, the Celtics have turned up the heat on defense. Garnett took umbrage with a bad foul called on Pierce, who appeared to have two hands on the ball as Okafor attempted a layup. Although Leon Wood turned his back, Jason Phillips thought Garnett’s fist wave was too emphatic and hit Garnett with a technical foul.
Rivers will take that sort of intensity on defense, though. The Celtics have outscored the Wizards 14-6 in this quarter by not allowing anything easy.
Halftime, Celtics 56-52: The Celtics are still figuring things out. That much is clear from the way they played well in fits and starts in the first half.
The Wizards have a lot to do with that, too. Trevor Ariza has always given Pierce trouble defensively, and now Ariza is doing damage offensively, too. Ariza is 5-for-9 from the field to lead all scorers with 12 points, while the Celtics have gone with a more balanced attack. Nobody in white has scored more than eight points, but everyone who has played at least a minute has scored for the Celtics.
The Celtics can be thankful to Wall for going cold in the second quarter and for the Wizards as a team for committing nine turnovers. At the same time, the Celtics have to feel good about holding a lead even though nothing has gone right for them from outside. They are 1-for-6 from downtown, with Pierce bricking away with a 1-for-4.
If the Celtics stay varied with their offense (they scored 32 points in the paint in the first half ), they should open themselves up for open threes in the second half.
Second quarter, 5:42, Celtics 42-37: Garnett is clearly laboring. It makes sense that he would not be sharp at the offensive end, where he has missed the rim with two of his four shots. But he also looks to be huffing and puffing on the defensive end. This might be foot pain, or it might be old-fashioned conditioning.
Crawford figured to be in an aggressive mood against his former team, and he quickly took (and made) two shots after entering the game. Since then, he has turned to doing other, little things, like playing defense and helping enter the ball to begin the offense.
Like I said, this is a weird game.
Second quarter, 8:36, Celtics 36-31: Part of the reason Rivers has turned to an unconventional lineup of Green and Pierce in as co-threes, rather than having a true “two” guard, is that Lee has struggled lately and Crawford is still trying to find his way with the team. Meanwhile, Jason Terry prefers to come off the bench.
Playing all three of those guys together, Rivers has a chance to see all three play their way into playoff shape. Lee has had a rough start, hitting the bottom of the rim on a layup attempt and throwing the ball away on an easy entry pass to the corner, but he was able to get ahead of the defense and get fouled by Ariza.
Lee’s run-out attempt came after a steal by Crawford, who has Boston’s last two baskets.
End of first quarter, Celtics 28-27: Things truly are weird around here. The Wizards are running an efficient, varied offense while the Celtics are coming down the floor and playing what Rivers calls “Washington plays.”
With Wall spearheading the attack, the Wizards are shooting 55 percent from the field. Wall is giving the Celtics’ guards, even Bradley, all sorts of trouble with his speed. The third-year dynamo has 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting and three assists with no turnovers.
The Celtics are getting energy up front, where Randolph and Bass have combined for 11 points and seven boards. Bass has two dunks to help Boston cling to a slim lead heading into the second quarter.
First quarter, 5:51, Wizards 13-12: With Garnett and Pierce back in action, Bradley took six of the first 11 shots and Shavlik Randolph was the first man off the bench.
In the third-to-last home game of the season, the Celtics have gotten a little weird. Still, that is not entirely bad. Bradley did hit three of those six shots, and Randolph has gone more than two minutes without a foul. Also, Garnett looked to be moving fine in his first shift back in two weeks.
Then again, Pierce airballed a three, so these guys are definitely not at their best right now.
6:08 p.m.: Paul Anthony Pierce has another trophy for his case. The Celtics’ captain was presented with the eighth annual Red Auerbach award prior to the game by Celtics managing partner Wyc Grousbeck and coach Doc Rivers.
People cheered. There was much merriment. On to the game.
5:17 p.m.: As we mentioned a bit earlier, the Wizards are not nearly as bad as their record suggests. That is why it is good news for the Celtics that Pierce and Garnett will both be back in uniform and in the starting lineup as the Celtics try to take on a Washington squad that has given some very good teams tons of trouble lately.
The Wizards beat the Pacers on Saturday, and it was a convincing win over the third-best team in the East. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he has not even bothered to show his team video of the first three meetings with the Wizards this season, since the Wiz are such a drastically different team with Wall than without him.
The projected starters appear below.
3:40 p.m. ET: Sunday marks the highly anticipated return of Jason Collins to Boston. We assume there will be a memorable highlight reel and an extended ovation for the center whose 32-game stint with the Celtics ran through the best and worst the team has had to offer this season.
OK, so maybe video retrospectives of Collins’ time in Boston are asking a bit much. Regardless, Collins was a consummate pro for the Celtics, and no less an authority than Kevin Garnett raved about Collins’ work as a teammate. It would be a classy move for Celtics fans to give Collins a bit of light applause if he makes an appearance.
8 a.m. ET: The Celtics’ magical mystery tour of the some of the worst opponents the Eastern Conference has to offer has not gone as planned.
There is little question that the Wizards (29-47) have improved greatly since John Wall returned to the lineup for good. They are 24-19 since Wall came back in early January from a knee injury, making the Wizards a much more dangerous opponent than their overall record suggests. Meanwhile, the Celtics (39-37) have not had much success against teams they should handle easily.
The Celtics went 1-1 in the first two games of this four-game homestand, dropping a decision to the Cavaliers on Friday without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce after beating the Pistons on Wednesday. Both are hopeful to get back on the court Sunday, after Garnett clarified at practice on Saturday that the injury was his foot — not his ankle.
Join us for updates and analysis from TD Garden during the game, which tips off a bit early at 6 p.m. ET.