BOSTON - The Boston Celtics are learning the hard way.
Jeff Green scored 25 points, reserve Marcus Thornton had 21 and the Celtics nearly blew a 25-point third-quarter lead before beating the Washington Wizards 101-93 Sunday in Paul Pierce's return.
After blowing a big lead earlier in the week and winning in overtime against Detroit, they hung on in the final minute against the Wizards. Boston blew out the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.
"That's twice this week that we've handled it better, once we didn't," Boston coach Brad Stevens said. "I just thought we played gutsy at the end."
In a handful of games earlier this season, the Celtics had squandered big leads and ended up losing.
Rajon Rondo had a triple-double with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for the Celtics, who won their third straight after a season-high five-game losing streak.
"We got to do what we did to get the lead," Rondo said. "I think we stopped running (when) they score every time down it's hard to run and were able to get stops and push the ball up, that's how we got the lead."
Rasual Butler scored 14 of his 22 points in the final quarter for the Wizards, who failed to match the franchise's best start since 1968-69.
Pierce, who played for the Celtics for 15 seasons and was a member of their 2008 championship team before being traded to Brooklyn prior to last season, scored 16 points. He signed with Washington as a free agent during the off-season.
"This place will always have a place in my heart — always," he said.
John Wall had 17 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds for Washington, which had won its last four.
"For whatever reason, after winning four and row and playing the way we have, moving the ball and sharing the ball, we came out tonight as individuals," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.
The Celtics had opened their 25-point lead midway into the third quarter before the Wizards made a furious fourth-quarter rally behind Butler.
Washington, which struggled with its shooting, didn't get into an offensive rhythm until the beginning of the final quarter when Butler nailed three 3-pointers during a 14-3 spree that started the quarter.
Butler's final quarter — when he nailed four 3-pointers — helped the Wizards make it 94-93 with just over a minute to play.
Pierce front-rimmed a 3 before Avery Bradley nailed one from deep in the right corner for Boston with 37 seconds to play, and Green's breakaway layup sealed it.
The Celtics increased it to 63-38 in the third on Rondo's fastbreak layup and led 77-59 entering the final quarter.
Wizards: They were coming off a season-high 119 points in a win over Denver on Friday, but missed 14 of their initial 18 shots and scored only 15 first-quarter points. ... C/F Nene played his second straight after missing five with right plantar fasciitis.
Celtics: Stevens likes the test his team will get facing the Wizards on consecutive days. "I think they're a legitimate contender out of the East," he said. "This is great for us to have to have to play 96 minutes in a row against this team." ... G Marcus Smart entered the game in the first quarter after being held out of Friday's game while he recovered from a sprained left ankle that sidelined him for 11 of 12.
Pierce got a nice hand during pregame introductions. The crowd near the Wizards bench chanted his name during the third quarter. "It's always probably going to be weird just coming up in this arena," he said before the game. "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."
HANDING IT OUT:
Wall had his fourth straight game with 12 or more assists.
Boston F Jared Sullinger had 10 points and 10 boards. He took only eight shots.
The teams play the second of the home-and-home Monday night in Washington.