BOSTON — The Boston Celtics are still blowing leads at a rather alarming rate.
The difference now is that they are actually starting to hang on and win.
“We’re growing. It shows that we’re growing,” Boston guard Rajon Rondo said after his team blew all but one point of a 25-point lead but held on for a 101-93 victory over former Celtics captain Paul Pierce and his Washington Wizards on Sunday.
“In the past … we blew the leads, we lost the games, but today when they made the run to [come back] … we stayed solid and we stayed confident and we made plays.”
The win, coming in the first half of a home-and-home set that shifts to Washington on Monday night, was Boston’s third straight and also snapped the Wizards’ four-game winning streak and dropped them to 13-6.
Leads? The Celtics led by 23 at Atlanta last Monday and lost. Coming home for a three-game homestand, they squandered a 12-point lead and beat the Detroit Pistons in overtime, showed signs of losing a 23-point lead and beat the Los Angeles Lakers, and came close to losing on Sunday.
“That’s twice in a week that we’ve handled it better, once this week that we didn’t,” said Boston coach Brad Stevens. “I just thought we played gutsy at the end.”
Guard Avery Bradley, who had just had a 3-pointer rim in and out, nailed a trey from the right corner with 37 seconds left, after Pierce had missed one at the other end, and that did it as the Celtics improved to 7-11.
Forward Jeff Green, who further nailed the victory down with four points in the final 22 seconds, led the Celtics with 25 points. Rondo recorded a triple-double with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, while guard Marcus Thornton had 21 points in 17:19 off the bench. Forward Jared Sullinger delivered 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Forward Rasual Butler came off the bench with 22 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, for the Wizards. John Wall had 17 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds, but fellow guard Bradley Beal went 4 of 18 from the floor in a 10-point effort.
Pierce, the No. 2 scorer in Celtics history who played with the Brooklyn Nets last year before signing with Washington, had 16 points, including a pair of treys in the comeback.
“You don’t overlook anybody. The Celtics are a really good team,” said Pierce. “They’ve actually had a lot of games they should have won. They’re high-octane offensive team; once they’re going, they’re going.”
Rondo felt they stopped “going” after leading by 25 in the third quarter. They got it back at the end.
To some degree, this game was all about Pierce, who passed Reggie Miller for 16th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
At one point in the third quarter, with Pierce on the bench, part of the crowd chanted his name. In the closing seconds, chants of “We Love Paul Pierce” rang out. Pierce received an ovation when introduced in the starting lineup.
“I tried to focus a lot,” Pierce said. “Last year, I wasn’t that focused. This year I wanted to knock heads and concentrate on the job at hand as best as possible. There was a time when I hear the chants.”
“This place will always have a place in my heart — always. We won a championship. No one in this town forgets that.”
Before the game, Pierce said, “It’s always probably going to be weird just coming up in this arena. Even just landing in the airport and driving through the city, taking a left instead of a right into the locker room. It’s always going to be weird coming in here.”
His coach, Randy Whitman, said Pierce has been a plus from Day 1.
Said Rondo: “He’s one of my favorite guys, my favorite leaders I’ve ever played with. He’s a great role model and I’m sure that the older he gets the more knowledge he has for a young guy like John Wall and Bradley Beal.”
Green has 76 points during the winning streak and Rondo has dished out 54 assists in the last four games. Wall, who had six of his team’s 19 turnovers, has at least 12 assists in the last four games.
NOTES: Celtics coach Brad Stevens is impressed with the Wizards, who have six players scoring in double figures. “I think they’re a legitimate contender out of the East,” Stevens said before the game. … Boston rookie G Marcus Smart, who missed 10 games with a sprained ankle and played briefly against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday before sitting again on Friday night, was termed “available to play” by Stevens before the game. Smart came off the bench in the first quarter and also played in the second half, scoring two points while logging 7:41. … Sunday was former Celtics great Larry Bird’s 58th birthday.
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