BOSTON -- Depending on who you ask, the Celtics are headed in the right direction.
Boston beat the lowly Washington Wizards, 86-83, Sunday night at the Garden to capture their fourth consecutive victory. But they struggled to do it. Washington led for most of the game, and there were a lot of fans that started heading to the parking garage after Washington took a 79-66 lead with 6:11 remaining in the game.
Those that stayed witnessed a terrific ending. The game wasn't decided until the final buzzer sounded. Down by one and coming out of a timeout where the Celtics drew up a play for sharpshooting All-Star guard Ray Allen, the Superman theme music blared over the loud speakers.
And like the Man of Steel, Allen was clutch when his team needed him most. Allen, like he's done so many times in his stellar career, made the game-winning shot when he swished a 3-pointer from the top of the circle that put Boston ahead, 85-83, with 17 seconds left.
After the huge bucket, the Celtics clamped down and played defense, forcing Washington star forward Andray Blatche into a bad shot which he missed from 10 feet out. Garnett made one of two free throws and Al Thornton missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer as the Celtics hung on to win their fourth game in-a-row, besting the Wizards, 86-73.
Allen led Boston with 25 points. Paul Pierce had 17 points and Rajon Rondo added 15 points and 7 assists for the Celtics, who are on their longest winning streak since they won 11 in-a-row from late November to early December.
After Washington went up 79-66, the Celtics responded by scoring the next 10 points to slash Washington's lead to 79-76 after a Pierce 20-foot jumper with 2:57 remaining that brought the sellout crowd of 18,624 to its collective feet.
But JaVale McGee slammed home a two-handed jam to push Washington's lead back up to 81-76. Garnett answered with a free throw to make it 81-77 with 1:56 remaining, and Rondo followed that up with a fastbreak layup with 1:37 to go. Rondo was fouled on the play and he missed his free throw, but the Celtics corralled the rebound and got the ball to Allen, who sank a 3-pointer to put Boston on top, 83-82.
Randy Foye answered with a 15-foot jumper for Washington, but Allen answered with the game-winning shot with 17 seconds left which sent the crowd into a frenzy.
The Wizards led for almost the entire game, but the Celtics will be the first to tell you that it's the final score that counts.
Thornton (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Blatche (23 points, 9 rebounds) led Washington's attack. Kevin Garnett went 0-for-7 from the floor and finished with 8 points and 10 rebounds.
The Celtics only made one of their final eight shots of the first quarter, a drought that began with 5:06 remaining, and they did not make another field goal until 3:05 into the second quarter.
Washington took advantage of Boston's shooting slump by going on 12-4 run to build a 27-19 lead. Rasheed Wallace finally snapped Boston out of its funk with a five-foot hook shot, but the Celtics continued to trade baskets with Boston after that, struggling to chip away at Washington's lead even when the Celtic starters returned to the game.
The Celtics trailed by six at halftime and were held to just 35 percent shooting in the first half while allowing the Wizards to knock down 48.6 percent of their shots. But the Celtics outscored the Wizareds, 48-39 in the second half to steal the win.