By A. Sherrod Blakely
WASHINGTON It was the perfect shot for Paul Pierce. A bigger defender was on him who bites on his rock-a-by jab step. The defender stepped back. Pierce pulled up and clang?
It was that kind of night for Pierce and the Boston Celtics, as they followed up a commanding first half lead over the Washington Wizards with a cringe-inducing collapse in the second half that ended with a disappointing 85-83 loss.
"I really thought we deserved to lose the game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
Boston's loss snapped a five-game winning streak, while the victory ended a two-game skid for the Wizards (13-29) who are still among the league's worst teams.
"They played much harder than us in the second half," Rivers said. "Think about all the loose balls, tips, they dominated the 5050 game. We gave them a chance to see that they had a chance to beat us. When that happens, you lose games."
While the Celtics pride themselves on being a defensive-minded bunch, it was their offense that seemed to be in a major funk Saturday night.
It wasn't just that they were missing shots; they were missing the shots that on most nights, you can can count on going down.
Pierce's shot at the end of the game was an open look.
A few possessions earlier, Ray Allen had a wide open 3-pointer.
Before that, Allen missed a dunk.
Rajon Rondo. Garnett. Glen Davis.
Every Celtics player, at some point on Saturday, came up short when it came to making one of their bread-and-butter baskets.
And down the stretch, the Wizards were at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Arguably the biggest shot of the night was a 3-point bank shot by John Wall that gave the Wizards a 84-81 lead with 57.7 seconds to play.
"I didn't call it, but I knew it was going to hit backboard," said Wall, who finished with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. "I thought it was going to be a hard brick."
It ricocheted pretty hard off the backboard, but that didn't matter.
Wall's shot attempt achieved what so few of the Celtics' shots down the stretch could do - it went in.
"He (Wall) made some big plays," Rivers said. "The 3? Let's just say that's the basketball gods punishing us for the way that we played."
Added Pierce: "You see what happens. John Wall makes a bank shot that puts them ahead. It just came back to haunt us."
Even though the C's got a bunch of good shot attempts late in the game, Rivers was bothered by the game's pace.
"They were good shots, but they were all jump-shots," Rivers said. "My problem was our pace; we were walking the ball up the floor. We dribbled the life out of the game, everybody. We didn't go to the post. It was a jump shooting contest. When you're up 10 or 15 (points), jump-shots are easy. Then you squander the lead and then you're wide open, that trigger gets a little tighter."
Boston shot just 43 percent from the field, and misfired on 18 of their 23 shots in the fourth.
"When we had to get a bucket and we needed it, we couldn't," said Garnett.
As both teams misfired one off-the-mark shot for another, Washington gradually cut away at Boston's lead.
It wasn't until a driving lay-up by Wall with 2:35 to play did the Wizards take their first lead of the game.
The C's responded with a basket by Glen Davis that tied the score at 81 with 1:20 to play.
There was Wall right back at the C's, banking in a 3-pointer that gave Washington an 84-81 lead.
"It could have broken the backboard, but it went in for us and it was a game-changer," Wall said. "It was a big turning point for us."
And the C's to some degree, are at a turning point of sorts as well.
They don't play again until Tuesday against Cleveland, a game that they should win with relative ease.
But if there is a lesson to be learned, it's that no opponent, no matter how bad their record, no matter if you're home or on the road, can be taken for granted.
Because if you let them hang around too long, which is what the C's did on Saturday, it can hurt you.
"You can't give up big leads like that," Garnett said. "It's all about progress. We'll look at this and learn from it."