Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
The Wizards did just that in a 121-102 rout in Game 5 on Sunday night thanks to a 26-0 third-quarter run that featured big-time contributions from John Wall, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter.
That six-minute stretch busted the game open and Washington tied the second-round series at two games apiece. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Boston.
“We’re capable of those type of runs every game,” said Morris, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. “Keep pressing them, go up 50 if we can. That’s the mindset I felt like all of us had.”
Washington never led by 50, but after trailing 53-48 early in the third it was 74-53 by the time Porter made a layup with 5 minutes left in the quarter. Wall had seven of his 27 points and three of his 12 assists during the run as the Celtics committed eight turnovers — including back-to-back shot-clock violations — and went 0 for 5.
The playoffs have put fans through a roller coaster of emotions. Barely five days ago, we had a 2-0 series lead, on the fast-track to play Cleveland in the conference finals. Two weeks earlier, we were sitting in an 0-2 deficit against the 8th seeded Bulls, ready to concede a first-round loss.
The first half of game four went well. It was tied at 48 heading into the third, Boston was draining its threes, Washington’s bench looked paper thin, Wall was inefficient from the field, and there was no first quarter hole the Celtics needed to climb out from. Then the third quarter happened. From the 10:41 until the 5:00 mark, the Wizards went on a 26-0 run and forced eight Celtics turnovers.
Beal (29 points on 11/16 shooting) and Wall (26 points, 12 assists, 5 steals) seemingly scored or assisted on each of the 26 points. Once Washington increased the lead to 10, they put their foot on the gas, scoring and forcing turnovers at will. I cannot remember a stretch of basketball where the Celtics looked so helpless. It was particularly brutal after Boston suffered back-to-back shot clock violations. Washington finished the game shooting 52.4 percent, and despite matching the Celtics with turnovers (both teams had 20) they outscored Boston 56-38 in points in the paint.
The series is now tied 2-2 and game five is Wednesday in Boston. Half of the Eastern Conference Finals is set, as Cleveland swept Toronto yesterday after winning game four 109-102. Until Wednesday, we’ll be monitoring potential changes to the starting lineup and updates on Avery Bradley’s hip injury.
Page 2: Where Isaiah Doesn’t Appreciate the Officiating
“They were very physical,” said Thomas, who scored 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including 5-for-6 from behind the arc. “The refs were allowing them to hold and grab and do all those things. I think especially in that third quarter I might have hit the ground five or six straight times and I’m not the one that likes hitting the ground. So I think it has to be called differently.
“I’m not saying that’s the reason we lost. They went on a 26-0 run, and we can’t have that on the road, but I can’t be allowed to be held and grabbed every pin-down, every screen and I don’t shoot one free throw. I play the same way each and every night. So I think that has to change. They also paid a lot more attention to me. They didn’t allow me to get any open looks after a little bit of the second quarter and as a team we’ve got to do a better job of figuring that our and taking advantage of what they’re doing to us.”
Thomas failed to earn a free throw attempt only three times during the regular season, and two of those were in huge blowout wins that allowed him to sit the entire fourth quarter. He finished the season seventh in free throw attempts per game, and had climbed to fourth in that category during the playoffs prior to Game 4.
The lack of free throws in Game 4 represented a big change from the first three games, when he had averaged 10.3 free throw attempts.
Isaiah Thomas has become skilled at framing complaints in a politically correct manner. He was clearly upset with the officiating but was quick to mention that wasn’t the sole reason they lost. Thomas wanted to voice his grievances while avoiding a David Fizdale-style rant that would inevitably result in a fine.
But we can tell he’s frustrated. The Wizards limited Isaiah to under 20 points in consecutive games for the first time ALL SEASON. And for only the fourth time this year, he attempted zero free throws for a game. Bradley Beal has been tasked with stopping Isaiah, and he’s doing it through physical play. Ramping up the physicality on a 5’9″ 185 pound player is not a groundbreaking strategy — teams have tried that throughout IT’s career.
Washington is playing more aggressive with Isaiah when he’s off the ball. They’re bumping him off the spot when coming off picks and hacking him harder when they’re forced to foul. Generally, after the first few games of a seven-game series, teams essentially know each others play books. Defenses will sniff out the normal progressions on screens, cuts, post-ups, and dribble handoffs, and the refs allow increased physicality. This series has reached that point.
Regardless, we need Isaiah to assert his will if the Celtics plan on advancing. I cannot imagine another scenario where he doesn’t score 20 points and doesn’t attempt a free throw. Coach Stevens has a few days to break down film and put Thomas in better scoring situations.
The Celtics find themselves in a 2-2 tie. Its disheartening how they led 2-0, then lost back-to-back blowouts at Washington. In eight total meetings between the Wizards and Celtics, the home team has won each game. Now it’s a three game series — with two games in Boston — to decide who plays Lebron in the conference finals. Buckle up.
Page 3: Inside the Wizards’ Run:
Here’s how the Wizards’ run unfolded:
53-50: Markieff Morris hits 2 free throws with 10:41 left in the third quarter
53-52: John Wall layup
55-53: Bradley Beal 3-pointer
57-53: Beal jumper
59-53: Marcin Gortat layup
62-53: Morris 3-pointer
64-53: Otto Porter dunk
66-53: Wall runner
67-53: Wall free throw
69-53: Beal layup
70-53: Beal free throw
72-53: Wall layup
74-53: Porter layup
4:42 LEFT THIRD QUARTER
The run ended when Al Horford scored with 4:42 left in the third quarter.
During the Wizards’ run, the Celtics committed eight of their 18 turnovers, including four by guard Isaiah Thomas
Notice anything about the Wizards’ run? All 26 points were scored by the starters. Without Kelly Oubre, Washington’s already weak bench had another setback, but on Sunday they didn’t need their bench.
This series is largely a battle of starting fives. Both starting lineups finished top 10 in net rating among high-usage five-man units. The secondary starters of Washington are outplaying Boston’s.
Markeiff Morris finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. Otto Porter had 18 points (7/9 FG) with 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Conversely, Avery Bradley shot a combined 5/17 in games three and four. He tweaked his hip during a second quarter collision with Marcin Gortat and clearly looked fatigued guarding John Wall later in the game. Jae Crowder’s shot only 20 percent from deep and 35 percent overall since his strong game one.
Each game this series has featured a stretch where Washington’s starters have dominated Boston’s. Brad Stevens went back and forth inserting Gerald Green and Amir Johnson in the starting five, but neither has brought consistency.
He does have options for game five. Terry Rozier played possibly the finest game of his young NBA career, finishing with 17 points (5/10 FG) with 7 rebounds and a team high +15. Kelly Olynyk has played an efficient series, averaging 9 points in 18 minutes on 59 percent shooting and 40 percent from three. Marcus Smart’s shooting numbers are gross, but he’s our best option for guarding John Wall.
Wall and company had The Verizon Center roaring in game four. Washington, DC is largely an indifferent sports city, especially with the NBA, but the 26-0 run brought them out of hibernation. The Celtics need to limit their miscues and reclaim the energy that catapulted them to a 2-0 lead. The conference finals are so close, yet so far, with our fiercest rival standing in the way. Despite the negativity surrounding games three and four, the throw-back intensity of this series is enthralling, and game five should be a bloodbath.
The Rest of the Links:
Providence Journal: Isaiah Perfect Fit for the New NBA
Boston Globe: John Wall gets Ball to Cooperate | Shaughnessy: Celtics Offer Generous Serving of Turnovers | Finn: Looked Like a C’s Game to Win | Celtics Sunday Notes | Cavs Advance to Conference Finals
ESPN Boston: Stevens Preference on Turnovers