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Wizards top Celtics, clinch first playoff appearance in six years

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

John Wall had his hands in the air, celebrating, enjoying the moment on the Verizon Center floor when he walked over to his coach, Randy Wittman, and gave him a hug.

For Wall, four years had been too long to go without a feeling like this.

Six years after they made their last appearance, the Washington Wizards clinched a spot in the playoffs on Wednesday, thrashing the Boston Celtics, 118-92.

"It's everything that we've set for ourselves," Wall said. "Our main goal, at the start of training camp, as a group, was everybody coming together and just to try to get into a playoff spot. It was great to clinch a spot."

The Wizards (39-36) last made the playoffs at the end of the 2007-08 season, far before any of the current players joined the team. They lost in the first round to the Cleveland Cavaliers that spring, then smoldered in the doldrums of the Eastern Conference for the next several seasons.

They won just 19 games in 2008-09 and then won 26 in 2009-10, after which they won the draft lottery and selected Wall with the No. 1 overall pick that June.

Wall, who had 13 points and 10 assists on Wednesday, had shouldered the burden of mediocrity for years, often taking the team's lack of success personally. As he sat on the bench for the entire fourth quarter of the Wizards' rout, memories of those days were fresh in his mind.

"Each year, we kind of kept putting a piece here and there," said Wittman, who took over as the Wizards' coach during the 2011-12 season. "To be through the times that we were not too long ago, and now, to finally, say for guys like John, who have never been to the playoffs – I keep trying to tell him you can't explain the difference the arena is, the intensity is, how hard it is, how fast it's played – it's going to seem like a whole new game to these guys. I can't wait for them to see it."

After failing to clinch a spot Monday during a late collapse on the road against the Charlotte Bobcats, the Wizards took the court Wednesday with plenty of determination. They shot 62.5 percent from the floor – their best single-game mark since 2001 – and made nine of their first 12 shots to take a 19-4 lead after five minutes.

The lead stayed consistently near 10 points throughout the first half before Washington broke it open in the second. Trevor Ariza, who had 18 points, made a layup with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter to push the Wizards to a 20-point lead, and a 3-pointer from Al Harrington 48 seconds into the fourth quarter extended it to a game-high 33 points.

Marcin Gortat led the Wizards with 22 points, while Bradley Beal scored 19 points, Harrington scored 12 and Trevor Booker had 10.

Jared Sullinger had 25 points for the Celtics (23-52), who have now lost their last six games and 11 of their last 12 games. Jeff Green, who played at Georgetown from 2004 through 2007, and Rajon Rondo each added 13.

Nearly every Wizards player, clad in their warm-ups, started strolling onto the floor during the final possession. When the final horn sounded, Harrington led them to center court, where they gathered for a quick huddle.

For a few seconds, Wall danced.

"We just wanted to reach the playoffs, and now, we've got that out of the way," Wall said.

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