WASHINGTON -- After his Boston Celtics held the Washington Wizards to 1-for-14 shooting at the start, then scoreless for nearly 3 minutes at the end, coach Doc Rivers spoke about "great defensive intensity."
"Defense," he said, as if to underline the point, "is exhausting."
Wizards guard Jordan Crawford offered another explanation for the way things went in Boston's 89-86 victory over Washington on Saturday night.
"We're forgetting plays," Crawford said.
A night after what Rivers called a "flat game," the Celtics used defensive stands early -- Washington's only scoring in the first 8 minutes came on Kevin Garnett's goaltending call -- and late, plus Paul Pierce's 27 points, including a key 3 down the stretch, to edge the Wizards and improve to 1-2.
Washington dropped to 0-2 after its home opener in front of a sellout crowd of 20,308 that occasionally included folks chanting "Let's go, Celtics!" Washington is still without two starters: point guard John Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, and center Nene.
"Our starts are so bad, you don't know if you're ever going to see daylight again. I didn't know if the ... sun was coming up tomorrow. I truly didn't," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said with a chuckle after watching his club fall behind Boston 17-2 at the outset. "That's how bad it was to me, sitting there."
Bradley Beal, the No. 3 overall pick this year, missed all five of his shots and scored two points for the Wizards, while Crawford led the hosts with 21 points despite hurting his left ankle in the second half.
"I wasn't involved, really," Beal said. "I wasn't asserting myself. I wasn't aggressive."
Another Wizards reserve, Kevin Seraphin, played after being sidelined by a right calf injury for their season opener and made his first seven shots, finishing with 19 points. But Seraphin also threw the ball away with Washington down one point and 28 seconds left.
Cartier Martin scored five consecutive points during a 16-4 run that put Washington ahead 86-84 on Seraphin's turnaround 12-footer with a little under 3 minutes remaining.
"You don't want to give teams any life," Pierce said. "Today we gave them life and they had a shot at us."
But with thousands in the stands asking for "De-fense! De-fense!" Pierce made a 3-pointer to put Boston back in front with 2½ minutes left.
From there, neither team managed to score until Jason Terry's two free throws with 1.2 seconds left padded Boston's lead.
"Our defense put us in the situation to get where we were at," Celtics guard Rajon Rondo said. "We didn't shoot the ball well tonight. We had a lot of easy shots we missed. We can't control that, but what we can control is our effort on the defensive end and we did that tonight."
Rondo had 12 points -- including two on an acrobatic, one-handed push that he likened to a shot put -- and 12 assists, while Garnett scored 15.
Wall has a knee injury and is expected to miss another month or so, while Nene is out with a foot problem and no one is quite sure when he'll be back. Both are really missed on offense, which was apparent not only with the way Washington opened the game, but also by checking the assists column on the stat sheet: The starting five combined for a grand total of one assist in the first half.
Yes, the Wizards got points less than 1½ minutes in, but that was because Garnett was called for goaltending on a short shot by Emeka Okafor. Otherwise, Washington missed 13 of its first 14 field-goal attempts. That run of futility included shanked 3-pointers and midrange jumpers, layups and putbacks. Even a dunk.
Rondo's 19-foot jumper put Boston ahead 17-2 with a little less than 4½ minutes left in the first quarter. By then, three Celtics -- Garnett, Pierce and rookie Jared Sullinger -- each had at least twice as many points as the entire Wizards roster.
A day after losing by 11 at home to Milwaukee, the Celtics led by as much as 24-8 before Washington made a game of it.
"When you lose two games in a row and you play as poorly as we played last night, you're either going to come out with great intensity or we're still going to be thinking about last night and get down 20," Rivers said. "That cushion won the game for us."
Sullinger, the Ohio State forward taken in the first round of the draft, made his first NBA start, replacing Brandon Bass in Boston's lineup. Sullinger ended up with four points and four fouls. ... The teams play each other again Wednesday at Boston.