BOSTON | It was another defeat, though perhaps not a meaningless one. In falling 115-107 to the Boston Celtics, the Washington Wizards tied the franchise-worst mark for an 82-game season with a 19-63 record.
And so the Wizards head into the offseason - after failing to make the playoffs for the first time in five years - with a mix of regret, frustration and relief.
Fitting for a season fraught with injuries and shortcomings, the Wizards again were short-handed, dressing just eight players - a number that fell to seven after Javaris Crittenton sprained his ankle late in the third quarter. Gilbert Arenas didn’t play for the fifth straight game, seeing no need to subject his surgically repaired knee to further risk of injury. Brendan Haywood also sat after testing out his surgically repaired wrist for six games. Andray Blatche missed his second straight game, reportedly with knee soreness.
And joining those players on the bench was team captain Antawn Jamison, who limped off in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game with bone spurs in his right ankle.
That meant interim coach Ed Tapscott - in his final game on the bench for the Wizards - had to put together the team’s 21st different starting lineup of the season: guards Dominic McGuire and Crittenton, forwards Caron Butler and Darius Songaila and center JaVale McGee.
Of course, Boston countered by resting the Big Three: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. That enabled the Wizards to hang with the Celtics in a game that featured 12 lead changes.
Washington took an 83-79 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Celtics came back to grab a 101-98 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers from Eddie House. Butler tied the game with a jumper, but the Celtics seized the win with a 14-7 burst.
Butler finished with a season-high 39 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists, and Nick Young and McGee added 17 points apiece. Glen Davis led the Celtics with 21 points, and House added 20.
“I was just trying to finish the season strong, and like I said, the goal was to get 20 wins once we got to this late in the season, but unfortunately we fell a little short,” Butler said. “Had a couple mental breakdowns at the end that have cost us the last few games.”
Thus ended Tapscott’s first NBA coaching stint with a 18-53 record, leaving the 55-year-old with a bit of uncertainty about his future with the team, which will name Flip Saunders its coach within the next few days.
“I’ll have to discuss that with [team president] Ernie Grunfeld, my role with the team going forward, and I expect that to happen the next couple of days, weeks,” said Tapscott, who long has had a working relationship with Grunfeld and joined his hometown Wizards last year as director of player development. “I have an interesting resume in the NBA after all these years. I’ve enjoyed most of the things I’ve done in my NBA time, so I’m flexible. I’ll be flexible to see what opportunities are provided to me in the future, whether it be in the front office or coaching or even in the business side. I’ve done all of those things, enjoyed all those things. I will say coaching is the most fun. Even this year.”
When asked how he will look back on this interim stint, Tapscott paused for a minute.
“It’s sort of a wistful feeling,” he finally said. “You always want to be as successful as you possibly can be, and we didn’t have the type of success we wanted here. But as time goes on, you’ll look back, and your perspective will alter with the gift of time, and you’ll end up picking some more positives out of it, and you’ll still have to recognize some of your lack of success. So you come down both sides of the aisle there.”
There was nothing wistful about the retrospective view Jamison had of this season, however. Before Wednesday night, he had gutted out an assortment of injuries to play in all 81 games while leading the Wizards in points (22.2, second highest in his career) and rebounds (8.9) and ranking third in the NBA with 3,096 minutes played.
“This is the worst season I’ve ever been a part of,” said Jamison, who went through a 17-win season in his rookie year with Golden State. “Even though we had a lot of injuries, we still thought we had enough talent to play better than what we’ve shown this year. But this is the worst season. Back then [2000-01 with Golden State], we had guys on 10-day contracts - six or seven guys. You were, I don’t want to say expected to be that bad, but… here, we’ve got a foundation here and some guys who have been here for an extended period of time. … It can’t get any worse than what we went through this year.”