The Wizards didn't lose because of John Wall, who admitted that his legs were almost dead when he missed the layup at the buzzer that would've sent Saturday's game into overtime. It was because the Boston Celtics has Brad Stevens as coach.
"I should've dunked the ball but I didn't have enough energy left to do that," Wall, who had a season-high 36 points, 13 assists, seven steals and seven rebounds in a season-high 44 minutes.
They were short-handed without Bradley Beal (rest), Otto Porter (right hip) and Drew Gooden (left calf) negating the return of Marcin Gortat after missing three games with a knee infection.
After two foul shots from Garrett Temple tied the score at 117 with 14 seconds left, Stevens drew up a play during the timeout that caught the Wizards (19-20) off-guard. The Wizards didn't have any timeouts left and Wall went the length of the court with four seconds left and had a clear path to the rim. Nene's putback was too late.
"Brad knew exactly how they were going to play it," said Jae Crowder, who made a point-blank layup off Marcus Smart's pass over the top of Kelly Oubre as he fronted the post. "I wanted to front on the post to clear the backside for me so there was no backside help and throw it over the top and me make a play."
In a nutshell, that was it. But the Wizards were expecting Stevens to run his final offensive play through Isaiah Thomas in some sort of pick-and-roll action. That would make the most sense as Thomas had 32 points and made 16 trips to the foul line. Keeping him out of the paint has been a constant challenge but Stevens -- easily the NBA's best coach when it comes to after-timeout plays -- did it again.
"They popped the ball back to Marcus Smart," Wall said. "He threw a perfect pass. It was a situation we weren't expecting it. ... I don't think that one play cost us the game."
Wall scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, stealing an inbound pass to Evan Turner for a dunk to get the score to 111-110 with 1:11 left.
Even after that Stevens fooled the Wizards. He designed an ATO for Avery Bradley, who had been a non-factor offensively with nine points on 4 of 13 shooting, to pop for a three-pointer. He made it and the lead was four.
Both teams traded a flurry of free throws (12 in the last 30 seconds), including a technical on Crowder for arguing with Wizards coach Randy Wittman. Then came the heart-breaking finish for Oubre, who was making his seventh start for Porter.
"He hit the game-winning shot on me," Oubre said. "It's definitely a tough pill to swallow."
Veterans like Temple, however, won't let the rookie take the blame for the loss. They led 61-54 at halftime and instead of putting Boston away they squandered the lead because of nine second-half turnovers (only five in first two quarters).
"They ran a good play. We thought they were going to one or two guys and Brad drew up a great play. They got something over the top with no help. That's our fault," Temple said. "As veterans we got to tell Kelly how we would guard if they try to go in the post. He was doing things we've been doing over the whole season, fronting the post. We didn't have any weakside help on that one for him. We had a chance way before that in the third quarter where we lost the game."