- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2004

BOSTON — The Washington Wizards have no one to blame but themselves for not beating the Boston Celtics last night at FleetCenter. They fell behind early and saw a great effort by their reserves come up short in a 100-89 loss.

The Wizards trailed by 26 points with a little more than three minutes to play in the third quarter but threw a scare into the Celtics by pulling within 87-82 with 3:54 left in the game.

But after Washington’s Brendan Haywood made one of two free throws, the Celtics (22-23) responded with six straight points, including a 3-pointer from Ricky Davis that restored a solid lead at 93-83 with two minutes to play.

The Wizards (12-29) got back in the game not by using the small-ball attack that had them riding a two-game winning streak but by using players who refused to give up.

Christian Laettner, playing his first game since a five-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Steve Blake had career highs in points (17) and 3-pointers (five), and former Maryland teammate Juan Dixon finished with 14 points.

“We tried, but we just can’t dig ourselves into a 26-point hole,” Laettner said. “We have guys like Juan and Steve who come out and pick up the intensity. But if we have that intensity from the very beginning, I think you’ll see a very different team.”

All told, the Wizards’ bench was responsible for 56 points.

Boston’s Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 24 points. Four other Boston players finished in double figures. Boston also outrebounded the Wizards 48-35 and forced them into 24 turnovers while making 21 themselves.

Despite the rally, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was disappointed that poor play by his starters made victory unreachable.

“It’s a shame you have to play so poorly to play so well,” Jordan said. “That’s not the mark of a winning team, frankly. We have to go out and compete, stay in the game and be composed and disciplined. We got back in it, but we were playing a helter-skelter type of basketball to do that. You can’t play like that for four quarters.”

Jordan got little from his starters, especially in the frontcourt, where Jared Jeffries, Jarvis Hayes and Kwame Brown combined for 16 points and nine rebounds.

The Wizards were outplayed at the end of the first half and were even worse at the start of the second half when the starters were on the floor.

“We didn’t do the things we were supposed to do,” Blake said of those stretches. “We were kind of flat-footed for a few minutes, and then all of a sudden it went downhill. It looked like no one wanted to play.”

A 3-pointer by Blake with 5:49 left in the first half seemed to light a spark that wasn’t there earlier. After Blake’s jumper, Brown, who picked up two early fouls, sank a pair of free throws to give Washington its last lead at 33-32 at the 4:57 mark.

But Boston responded with a 14-1 run that put the Celtics in command at 46-34. Larry Hughes (15 points) ended a Wizards drought of almost six minutes without a basket when he converted a steal into a breakaway dunk 2.5 seconds before halftime.

Boston stayed hot at the start of the third quarter with an 18-4 run that yielded a 64-40 lead with 8:04 left in the third

The loss extended the Wizards’ road losing steak to 11 games and leaves them without a victory away from home since they beat the Bucks on Dec.6. In addition, they have now failed to win three consecutive games since Jan.8, 2003.

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