WASHINGTON — John Wall, perhaps the fastest player in the NBA with the basketball, used every bit of burst remaining in his weary body to race full court after Boston forward Jae Crowder’s go-ahead layup with 3.9 seconds left.
Wall reached the basket in time but ran out of energy and the Celtics walked off relieved.
Guard Isaiah Thomas scored 32 points and Crowder’s game-winning basket capped the Celtics’ thrilling 119-117 victory over the Washington Wizards on Saturday night.
With Wall’s backcourt partner Bradley Beal sidelined, he set season highs with 36 points, 44 minutes and seven steals and added 13 assists, but his night ended with a missed layup at the buzzer.
“I was going fast as heck,” Wall said. “I should have dunked the ball, but I didn’t have energy left.”
He probably wasn’t alone.
Crowder had 22 points and a late technical foul after what he described as a verbal spat with Wizards coach Randy Wittman.
Boston jumped ahead 111-106 with 1:38 remaining with a Thomas-fueled 12-3 run late in the fourth quarter during a wild second half filled with extreme momentum swings.
“We played well enough to win,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We were fortunate that John Wall missed that.”
Stevens later said of Wall, “His speed is ridiculous.”
The Wizards entered with a four-game winning streak and nearly kept hope alive for a fifth Wall scored six points in the final 1:11 and guard Garrett Temple’s two free throws with 13.9 seconds left tied the score.
After calling a timeout, Stevens designed a play for the physical Crowder inside matched against one of the Wizards’ perimeter players. With Washington forward Kelly Oubre Jr. fronting the high post, guard Marcus Smart threw a perfect lob that Crowder caught and laid in.
Boston has won three straight after dropping four in a row and six of seven.
Thomas made 15 of 16 free throws as the Celtics sank 32 of 36. Center Jared Sullinger scored 14 points before fouling out.
Boston improved to 3-0 over Washington this season. The Celtics dominated the first two games, both in Boston, winning by an average of 26.5 points.
The Wizards hit 31 of 36 free throws as they opened a five-game homestand. One of the misses came from Wall with 22.8 seconds remaining after he was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with the Wizards trailing 114-110. After Wall’s miss, Crowder was whistled for a technical. Washington made the technical and Wall hit his final two attempts.
Crowder was thought to be verbally sparring with Wizards forward Nene as the two big men stood across from Washington’s bench. Crowder claims another person set him off.
“Wittman was saying some stuff I didn’t like,” Crowder said. “I thought he was getting away with a lot of curse words, inappropriate words to me. I retaliated. I got hit with the tech.”
Crowder continued, saying Wittman’s beef apparently involved a previous play where Crowder boxed out Nene. The coach called him “soft,” the forward said.
Wittman and the Wizards declined comment.
Center Marcin Gortat had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Wizards. Forward Jared Dudley added 15 points as all five Washington starters scored in double figures. Temple had 12 and Oubre 10.
After Dudley opened the second half with a 3-pointer to make it 64-54, the Celtics scored the next 14 points as Thomas drained two shots from beyond the arc.
Thomas has scored at least 30 points in three of his last five games.
“He’s got a nice rhythm,” Stevens said of his point guard.
Washington countered with a 20-12 spurt, but Boston closed the quarter with a 7-2 run, cutting the Wizards’ lead to 86-83.
The lead changed sides three times in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards continued their stretch of high-scoring first halves as they entered the locker room leading 61-54. They finished with 117 points. That’s a lot, but it was not enough.
“I can’t fault effort,” Wittman said. “It was just a battle down the stretch and they ended up making one more play than we did.”