- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2001

BOSTON Michael Jordan called Boston's Antoine Walker one of the most talented players in the league Tuesday, and one night later Walker proved him to be right on the money.
Walker scored 29 points last night in front of 18,624 at the FleetCenter to lead the Celtics (3-2) to a 104-95 victory over Jordan's Washington Wizards.
Jordan led the Wizards with 32 points on 12-for-16 shooting. Christian Laettner had his best game of the season, finishing with a season-high 29.
"Of course there was all the the hype going into the game, with it being on national television and all," Walker said. "Michael is a good friend of mine. We got bragging rights for game one."
The Wizards rallied from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter but it wasn't enough.
Boston rookie forward Joe Johnson, who alternated with Paul Pierce on Jordan for most of the night, pulled the trigger on a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a 60-50 lead that forced the Wizards to call time out with 7:49 left in the third quarter.
But Laettner, who scored 10 of the team's 26 points in the third quarter, kept the Wizards in the game. With Laettner undressing both starting center Tony Battie and reserve big man Mark Blount, the Wizards trailed 75-68 going into the fourth quarter.
Laettner scored the Wizards' first eight points of the fourth, and his efforts had his teammates on the bench springing from their seats. This was part of a 13-5 Washington run that gave the Wizards their first lead of the second half 81-80 with 7:46 to go.
"It's good to get some easy buckets under your belt," Laettner said. "That gets the snowball going. You get your confidence where you're not weary of rising up and taking your shot. If you make a few shots in a row, it helps a lot. … When you rise up to take your shot and you're not supremely confident that you're going to make it you can get into trouble."
With the score tied at 89, the Celtics scored seven straight points, including a basket off a Jordan turnover, that gave them a 96-89 lead and forced the Wizards to call time with 2:49 left.
"From that point on, we did not execute," Jordan said. "We did not get proper rebounds and we turned the ball over. … Antoine hit some shots down the stretch and we couldn't get our rhythm down at the end."
Laettner's jumper pulled the Wizards within 96-91. However, a Washington turnover on the next possession resulted in a fastbreak layup for Kenny Anderson that pushed the lead to 98-91 with 1:39 remaining.
Chris Whitney's 3-pointer with 1:04 left narrowed Boston's lead to three points.
But at the other end, Walker closed out the Wizards with another basket with just under 50 seconds remaining.
"We've got to learn how to finish games," Wizards coach Doug Collins said.
Last night, fully aware that he probably needed a swifter team on the floor against Boston, Collins inserted reserve forward Tyrone Nesby at power forward, moved Laettner to center and brought Jahidi White off the bench. Although both Walker and Pierce have developed reputations as outstanding players in the league, Collins didn't want Pierce to get off early against his team.
"We know that the majority of the offense is going to go through them but the difference is Paul Pierce," Collins said of the Celtics' leading scorer (28.5) before the game. "He's a great player who can create his own shot, post up and get to the foul line."
In the first quarter, Pierce did all of those things on his way to 10 points.
He posted up and backed down Richard Hamilton on one of his four baskets for an easy layup.
The 6-6 Pierce also stepped out behind the three-point line and hit both of his attempts from there on his way to 10 points in the quarter.
However, Pierce was the only player on the court to whom the rims were kind. Boston shot just 9-for-24 from the field (37.5 percent). The Wizards, who spread the ball around a little better than the Celtics, were an even worse 6-for-17.
Walker, never a bashful shooter, scored 11 points in the second quarter to lead all Boston scorers at halftime with 14.
But Pierce scored just two points in the quarter to bring his halftime total to 12.
Jordan, one of three Washington players to score six points in the first quarter, found his rhythm in the second when he scored 10.
Both teams did shoot the ball better in the second quarter, which ended with Boston leading 48-42. Boston was 11-for-23 (47.8). Meanwhile, Washington was an even better 11-for-21 (52.4 percent).
Notes
Center Etan Thomas did not make the trip to Boston due to a sinus condition. Thomas also missed the home opener against Philadelphia with the same condition. He's expected to be available to the team on Friday against Golden State. There are still single tickets available for the Friday and Sunday (Seattle) games.


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