Vitaly Potapenko Helps Secure Win

March 11, 2002
When the Celtics credit Vitaly Potapenko with the top two plays of the game for grabbing consecutive offensive rebounds late in the fourth quarter, it says a lot about the quality of the contest. Play in yesterday's not-ready-for-a-national-audience matchup between Washington and Boston ranged from soporific to ugly to aggravating.

   The sellout crowd that paid to see Michael Jordan at the FleetCenter a second time was left watching a game that needed a boost from His Airness and holding signs that read, "Get well soon, MJ."

The hyper-productive Celtics offense also was ailing, as open shots did not fall and the passing game stagnated. But good teams, and Boston has earned that label by now, find ways to grind out wins when they struggle. So, the Celtics did not need style points to win, 98-91, and move into a tie with the Bucks for third place in the Eastern Conference. Somehow, shooting 42.3 percent from the floor, going 6 for 25 from 3-point range, and grabbing 32 rebounds (9 offensive) was just enough for Boston to extend its winning streak to four games. The thrilling rematch is tonight at the MCI Center. 

"There's going to be games like this," said Paul Pierce (18 points). "It wasn't a pretty game, but some way we grinded it out and won it in the fourth quarter. It wasn't the best-played basketball, but we did what we had to do to win the game and that's what's most important. I think it was just one of those nights. We got a lot of wide-open looks and they just didn't go down. It was a bad shooting night and we scored 98 points. If we shoot the ball decent, we go over 100 again."

After Pierce finished the third quarter with a dunk off a fast-break feed from Tony Delk (12 points, 4 assists), Boston entered the final quarter with momentum and a 74-73 lead. The Celtics appeared less anxious to hoist quick attempts from the arc in the fourth quarter and more willing to drive and dish to the open man or pass the ball around the perimeter for the best shot. Eric Williams, who played the entire fourth period after sitting for the whole first half, found Antoine Walker and Delk for big 3-pointers.

When Delk hit from the arc, the Celtics went ahead, 89-83, with 4 minutes 31 seconds left. Washington made only two more field goals the rest of the way and came no closer than 3 points the remainder of the game. With the Wizards trailing, 93-90, Potapenko hit the glass to buy time for the Celtics. Down the stretch, Boston also helped its cause by making 7 of 8 free throws.

The Wizards'

third loss in a row puts them in danger of falling out of playoff position in the East as Jordan recovers from knee surgery.

"The last six minutes of the game we have not been able to finish," said Washington coach Doug Collins. "We saw it again [yesterday]. This was a carbon copy of our last two losses. Under pressure, we take bad shots and make bad decisions, on both ends of the floor, and teams have capitalized on that."

It was anything but a repeat performance for Boston. The Celtics quickly forgot the passing and smart shot selection that fueled three straight performances of 100-plus points. The first half featured exactly one example of good ball movement. That came late in the first quarter when Kenny Anderson (17 points, 4 assists)  made one of his four steals and started a fast break. He sent a bounce pass across the lane to Walter McCarty, who then quickly dished to Rodney Rogers (13 points)  as the big man trailed the play. Rogers dunked, helping Boston to a 23-21 lead after one.

It was a glimpse of what should have been but wasn't. The Celtics spent the second quarter throwing up quick attempts from outside. They shot 40 percent (18 for 45, 2 for 14 from 3-point range) from the floor in the first half and, as a result, entered the break trailing, 53-48.

Some credit for the Celtics' shooting difficulties, however, belonged to the Washington defense, particularly when it came to Pierce. Washington was always ready with a double- or triple-team, collapsing on Boston's scoring leader, most noticeably in the first half. But Pierce made key passes out of trouble late in the game.

"Maybe it was good that we didn't shoot the ball well," said Walker (a team-high 23 points on 8-for-21 shooting). "Hopefully, they sag off us and we can make some shots [tonight]. Right now, we've got to continue to try to bang out wins."

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