Celtics Run Out of Gas


WASHINGTON - During a four-day layoff, the Celtics suffered from a lack of game experience. Last night, they played five minutes too many at the MCI Center, losing to the Wizards, 110-105, in overtime.

The Celtics' offense disappeared during overtime, and so did Mark Blount after picking up his sixth personal with two minutes remaining. A 17-footer by Antawn Jamison opened the overtime scoring for Washington and it appeared that would be all the home team needed as Boston missed shot after shot. Free throws by Larry Hughes and a driving layup by Gilbert Arenas pushed the Wizards ahead, 106-100. An offensive foul nullified a layup by Paul Pierce (37 points) and kept the Wizards ahead by 6 with less than a minute to play. Boston did not score until Ricky Davis (14 points) dunked with 12.8 seconds to go.

With the score tied, 100-100, and 37.3 seconds remaining in regulation, coach Doc Rivers called a timeout to diagram what he hoped would be a game-winning possession for the Celtics. But Pierce missed a running jumper at one end. Then, Jamison failed to hit a 17-footer at the other. Pierce heaved a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but there would be no heroics in regulation.

It took a half of basketball, and, undoubtedly, some harsh words at halftime, for Boston to regain its competitive edge. The Celtics have not been a second-half team this season, but they went about changing that reputation in dramatic fashion, turning a 13-point halftime deficit into a 12-point (84-72) lead entering the final period. After struggling offensively for 24 minutes, the Celtics put up impressive numbers in the third. They outscored the Wizards, 42-17, shot 65 percent (13 for 20) from the field, went 14 for 15 from the line, and committed just two turnovers.

Meanwhile, Washington shot 29 percent, committed nine turnovers (for 14 points), went to the line just five times, picked up 3 techincals (coach Eddie Jordan, Arenas, Jamison), and narrowly lost the battle of the boards (8-7).

The third quarter could be considered one long run for the Celtics, who wasted no time evening the score, 59-59, by opening the period with a 17-4 run. A pair of Pierce free throws capped the run with 6 minutes 56 seconds left in the third. Boston took its first lead when Gary Payton stepped to the line for a pair of foul shots with 5:16 to go in the quarter. The free throws started a 17-5 run that was capped by a 6-footer from Al Jefferson.

But the Wizards were looking to end a two-game losing streak and they weren't about to let the Celtics coast to victory in the fourth. Boston saw its double-digit lead disappear midway through the fourth with a couple of 3-pointers from Washington. It remained a one-possession game down the stretch, though the Celtics were hurt inside by foul trouble. Raef LaFrentz fouled out with 3:02 left, while Blount was forced to play with five personals. Still, with two minutes left, Pierce hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to even the score, 98-98.

The first half was different story for the Celtics. The Wizards took a 55-42 advantage into the break after leading by as many as 17 points in the second quarter. Boston played well in spurts, but often fell victim to a stagnant offense and sloppy ball movement. Looking every bit a rusty squad, the Celtics shot 38 percent in the first half and recorded just one more assist (10) than turnover (9).

Payton failed to convert a driving layup as the halftime buzzer sounded, in many ways capturing the Celtics' frustration as they came up short in the first half. Given the time off between games, it would have been somewhat understandable if the Boston needed the first quarter to warm up. But that was not the case, as the Green saw their performance decline in the second quarter in all areas except rebounding. The Celtics shot 26 percent (5 for 19), saw LaFrentz pick up three fouls, and allowed the Wizards to reel off an 8-0 run late in the period.

With the exception of a 20-footer from Hughes, the spurt came courtesy of the Wizards getting to the line. They made 21 trips to the stripe in the first half, including 15 in the second quarter. Jamison came up big for Washington, scoring 8 of his 27 points in the second. But despite the Wizards' comfortable lead, they were slightly off their stride on offense, shooting 42 percent in the first half.

Washington quickly established an 11-point (24-13) lead when Hughes dunked on the break with 3:51 left in the first quarter. Before the game, Rivers called the Wizards "a great transition-offense team." While they scored only 6 points off the break in the first half (compared with 0 for the Celtics), the Wizards were ahead of the pace when came to total points as they attempted to be the first team this season to top 100 points against the Celtics.

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