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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Wizards dodge another collapse in win over Celtics

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— It was a collapse so familiar to Washington Wizards fans. A decent halftime lead disintegrated in a third quarter marred by nine turnovers, three technical fouls and a whopping 42 points for the opposition.

Yet, surprise! The Wizards didn't tank this one. A fourth-quarter rally and a near shutout performance in overtime Wednesday night made for a 110-105 victory over the Boston Celtics.

"We lost our composure a little bit," said Larry Hughes, who nearly cornered the stats market with 21 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, six steals and five turnovers. "That's normal to say 'Here we go again,' but we're not the same. We don't feel like we're the same old Wizards. We feel like we can slow it down, take a step back, get our composure, come out, get some stops, put the ball in the buckets, and come out on top."

Antawn Jamison added 27 points and 10 rebounds, and Gilbert Arenas had 25 points for the Wizards, but the true hero of the night was probably Jared Jeffries.

In his first start of the season, Jeffries scored a career-high 15 points and helped limit Paul Pierce to 8-for-25 shooting. Jeffries blocked a jumper by Pierce in overtime and later drew a crucial charge on the Boston star forward. Pierce led the Celtics with a season-high 37 points, but 18 of the points came on free throws and he didn't score in overtime until a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining.

"It gives you confidence, man, if the coaches have that kind of confidence to put you out there on a player like him," Jeffries said. "I want to be a starter in this league, so I've got to take this chance that I've got right now and run with it, so I don't lose it."

Gary Payton recovered from a scoreless first half to score 17 for the Celtics, who had a three-game winning streak snapped. Boston didn't score a single fast break point in the game, and they shot a season-low 40 percent from the field against a team ranked at the bottom of the league on defense.

Coach Doc Rivers said his team showed the effects of a four-day layoff since its previous game. He was also let down by a young bench that couldn't hold the lead when the starters took a breather in the fourth quarter.

"You just had to go back with your starters, and that is absolutely what I didn't want to do, but I had no choice at that time," Rivers said. "I thought we were leaking oil."

The Celtics made just 2 of 7 shots in overtime, both in the final 13 seconds. Jamison opened the scoring in the extra period with a baseline jumper. Hughes made a pair of free throws, and Arenas' driving layup put the Wizards ahead by six.

The Wizards started the game strong for a change, leading after the first quarter for only the second time this season. Boston missed 10 of its first 15 shots, and Washington took advantage with an early 13-2 run.

The Wizards blew a 13-point halftime lead but erased a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit. They entered the game allowed a league-high 104.4 points, but they held their own defensively until the third quarter.

But then came the fourth-quarter rally and an overtime victory. This time, it was the other team that pulled off the Wizards-like meltdown.

"This is what we've been preaching since the beginning of the season, keeping our composure and staying in our offense when we have the lead in the fourth quarter," Pierce said. "We have to become a tougher team in crunch time."

Notes: The Wizards' third-quarter technicals were called on coach Eddie Jordan, Arenas and Jamison. ... Three players fouled out: Boston's Raef LaFrentz and Mark Blount and Washington's Jarvis Hayes. ... The Celtics trailed at halftime for the first time this season. ... Wizards guard Steve Blake, recovering from surgery on his right ankle in September, took part in a full practice for the first time this week and is expected to be activated for Saturday's game against New Jersey.

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