His players briefly lost their composure. The referees briefly lost their minds. But unflappable Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens simply grabbed his whiteboard during the final seconds of Saturday's game against the Washington Wizards and ensured his team didn't lose the game.
Boston impossibly coughed up a four-point lead with 22 seconds to play -- a head-shaking sequence that included Jae Crowder getting a technical foul for barking at Wizards coach Randy Wittman as Washington shot free throws, and Marcus Smart picking up a loose-ball foul for aggressively pursuing an offensive rebound after a miss by Amir Johnson, who had been fouled intentionally via a rulebook loophole. It all added up to a tied game with 13.9 seconds to play.
Unwilling to let a victory slip away, Stevens essentially anticipated how the Wizards would defend a final-shot opportunity and created a play to exploit them. Maybe gun shy after a couple of bad turnovers off inbounds actions recently, and also looking to trim as much time off the clock as possible, Stevens made the rare election to inbound from the baseline rather than advance the ball following a timeout. With Kelly Olynyk inbounding, the Wizards willingly pulled their center away from the basket and opened up the paint for Boston.
The Celtics ran a rather simple action: Isaiah Thomas brought the ball over halfcourt, then dished to Smart on the left wing. With Boston correctly assuming that the Wizards would front Crowder, who was essentially playing the power forward spot with Boston utilizing a three-guard lineup, Smart simply lobbed the ball over rookie Kelly Oubre Jr., and Crowder went up quick with a layup with 3.9 seconds to play.
John Wall made a mad sprint the other way for a Wizards team without a timeout, but after a brilliant 36-point, 13-assist, 7-rebound, 7-steal night, Wall missed a layup at the buzzer and Boston emerged with a 119-117 triumph at the Verizon Center.
Even Wall tipped his cap to Stevens after Saturday's game.
"He's a hell of a coach, man," Wall told reporters in Washington. "He's a young coach, but that's one hell of a coach that knows the game real well. Even at the end of the game, we lined up in different formation that he hadn't seen and he called out our play before I got the ball. I heard him calling it out.
Added Wall: "He does a heck of a job calling stuff that you wouldn't expect. We all thought it would be a high pick-and-roll to Isaiah Thomas or an [isolation] and he ran a play we weren't expecting [on Crowder's winning layup]."
Meeting with reporters after Saturday's win -- Boston's third straight after a rough patch in which it lost six of seven -- Stevens lamented all of his team's miscues and stressed that Boston had to be better moving forward. But this was a gritty win for a Celtics team that played from behind much of the night while wrapping up a four-game-in-five-night stretch.
Defying logic, the Celtics have now won 11 of their past 13 games in which the second night of a back-to-back was played on the road. At the halfway point of the 2015-16 season, Boston sits at 22-19 and, in a logjammed Eastern Conference, Boston is only two games back of a playoff spot in the top half of the bracket (though the Celtics sit at No. 8 at the moment).
The Celtics might not have had a chance to steal the win if not for Isaiah Thomas, who scored 32 points despite making just six field goals. Thomas was 5-of-7 shooting beyond the 3-point arc (and 1-for-7 everywhere else). He also made 15 of 16 free throw attempts over 33 minutes. Crowder put up his third 20-or-more point game in the past five nights. He finished with 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting with eight rebounds and six assists over 33:33.
This was Boston's first win of the season in a game decided by 3 points or fewer. The Celtics had been a league-worst 0-5 this season in that statistic.