In a game that featured one team that has the talent to get it but doesn't quite yet, and a team that gets it but is hanging on through aging and injuries, the Boston Celtics, behind a key dunk by Kevin Garnett and a dominant performance from Paul Pierce, took out the young and immature Washington Wizards 100-94 Sunday afternoon.
The Celtics, playing without Rajon Rondo and with only 11 minutes of Ray Allen, got behind their ace, Pierce, and the veteran did not let the team down. Pierce was an offensive tour de force, scoring 34 points on 15 shots, grabbing eight rebounds and also delivering 10 assists. It was the first such game (30+ pts, 8+ rebounds, 10+ assists) from Pierce since his triple-double against Philadelphia in 2006.
It didn't matter who had the check on Pierce for Washington, Pierce simply found ways to get the ball, get to his spots and the free throw line, where he scored 12 of his points (12-15). As such, it allowed Boston to dictate pace, which helped in hiding the impact of losing Rondo and Allen. Also helping Boston's control of pace was Washington's lack of defensive pressure, rarely doing anything aggressive to deny what Boston wanted to do offensively.
Allen was injured in the first half when Wizards rookie Jan Vesely took him out by showing hard defensively on a Celtics pick and roll, knocking Allen down to the ground. Allen persevered, but when it happened again on a Vesely screen on the Wizards' offensive end, Allen had to go to the locker room and wouldn't return to play.
The Wizards were close through this game, the lead changing hands 11 times, and would have success and then suddenly go away from it, be it attacking the rim or going inside to the post, especially late in the game when JaVale McGee was matched up on Jermaine O'Neal.
John Wall was successful, shooting nine out of 18 from the field and a perfect nine for nine from the free throw line, resulting in a team-high 27 points. Wall also had a season high 10 rebounds and seven assists and often demonstrated the origins of a strong team leadership throughout his 42 minutes on the floor, both good and bad.
The good saw Wall being aggressive and attacking, but the bad involved the high passion and emotion that Wall brings to the court. When he is on the attack, the team can really feed from it, but when he gets frustrated, which he did on a few occasions, the team tends to follow suit. Against the Celtics, Wall got frustrated at calls he didn't get when attacking and also at his own teammates when they would miss a pass or blow a defensive assignment.
No more obvious example occurred with a little more than two minutes left in the game and the Wizards down three. With Washington desperately wanting a stop, the Celtics worked the ball around until it got into the hands of Kevin Garnett with five seconds left on the clock and Garnett about 16 feet from the basket. Ever savvy, Garnett got both Wall and Trevor Booker to go for a pump fake and then drove to the hoop, with only Andray Blatche potentially stopping him from stretching the lead to five.
As Garnett drove the entirety of the lane, Blatche appeared to think about fouling or getting in the way of Garnett, but he elected to let Garnett go and give up the two points. Wall was clearly not happy with the play and his emotions translated to the rest of the team's body language as well.
Then, with 12 seconds left and Washington back to within four points, Wall extended his arms in dismay when did not get what he thought was a foul called on his missed shot attempt. When McGee failed to get the offensive rebound, it was McGee's turn to be disappointed which led to the Wizards not immediately fouling for until another three seconds when Jordan Crawford finally fouled. If Wall could maintain his composure, the example could have an impact over plays such as this and help the team grow as a whole in this area.
Mike Prada on Bullets Forever is not buying any moral victories in the closeness of the contest:
It's really tempting to be happy with the Wizards' effort, but this was a game they should have won. They let Boston enforce its will on the game and then made really bad decisions late.
Over in the winner's circle, CelticsBlog's Jeff Clark summarizes the game in simple terms:
Well, it wasn't always pretty, but a W looks lovely to me. It was also relieving to see Paul Pierce look like The Truth again.