The Washington Wizards were expecting the ball to go to Jeff Green. Everyone watching expected the ball to go to Green. Heck, even Gerald Wallace probably expected the ball to go to Green — and he knew the play.
Wallace surprised just about everybody by cruising coast-to-coast for the game-winning layup to give the Boston Celtics a 113-111 overtime victory in Washington on Wednesday. On a night when Green dropped a season-high 39 points and Wizards guard John Wall quietly recorded a triple-double, Wallace stole the show in the clutch before anybody could realize what was happening.
“You saw it, what [Celtics coach Brad Stevens] drew up,” an ebullient Green told a TV reporter after the game. “Give it to Gerald, go strong right, go for the layup. They were face-guarding me, denying me the ball, so you knew they weren’t going to help off me, so he had an open lane. He took it strong and made the layup.”
Although Green was the high scorer and Wallace made the big shot, Phil Pressey arguably was the player of the game. The diminutive rookie point guard started in place of Rajon Rondo, who rested his surgically repaired knee on the second end of a back-to-back, and scored 20 points in 34 minutes. Both numbers were career highs by a wide margin. Pressey also set up Wallace’s heroics with a late, heads-up defensive play.
Pressey’s foul on Marcin Gortat with 13 seconds to go in the overtime and the Celtics leading by a point was huge in two respects. For one, it was Pressey’s sixth foul, which meant his night was over. But the foul also forced Gortat to earn his points at the line, where he hit just one of two to tie the game.
So when Stevens put the ball in Wallace’s hands he knew, make or miss, that there was almost assuredly going to be another five minutes of basketball. Stevens was confident there wouldn’t be, though.
“Gerald’s a forceful driver,” Stevens told reporters. “He’s going to get where he wants to go.”
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Celtics (15-29) and once again prevented the Wizards (20-21) from getting over .500. Perhaps most importantly for the Celtics, they avoided losing another large lead — this one was as many as 19 points — and dropping another tight game. Doing it without Rondo or Avery Bradley, not to mention without the ball ever touching the hands of the team’s two leading scorers on the final possession, made the victory all the more satisfying.
Stevens and his staff had a minor dilemma when they huddled up to discuss their final play in overtime. Should they take the ball at halfcourt or inbound it at the opposite baseline with nine seconds left, assuming they had the option?
It turned out the decision was made for them. The officials ruled that the Celtics, after Jared Sullinger corralled Gortat’s missed free throw, had tried to advance the ball off the dribble before timeout was called. That ruling eliminated the Celtics’ right to inbound the ball from halfcourt, which another coach on another team might have had a conniption over.
It didn’t make any difference to Stevens, though. In fact, he sort of preferred it.
“We were thinking about choosing whether we were going to go the length of the floor, actually, because I thought more space would be helpful,” Stevens told reporters. “I think we were forced to, because I think we took a step in that direction or something like that, so that was good. It actually worked out in our favor to go the length of the floor instead of taking it out on the side, where we’ve gotten jammed up a little bit.”
If Pressey and C.J. Johnson are proof the Celtics are tanking, they’re doing it wrong.
For the second straight game, Pressey performed ably in big minutes while Johnson gave Boston a lift off the bench. In addition to Pressey’s 20 points, Johnson had nine points and four steals, doing tons of little things to keep possessions alive. Johnson was just 1-for-6 from beyond the arc, which normally would be unacceptable for a D-Leaguer on a 10-day contract.
As long as Johnson keeps slipping into passing lanes and playing with aggression on offense, however, Stevens shouldn’t take much issue with Johnson’s shot selection, which honestly wasn’t all that poor. Johnson just didn’t make shots, but they were decent looks. If missing shots like those is Johnson’s worst crime and he continues to work like he has the last two games, he could find a permanent home in Boston before long.