With the two major stars for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards—Kyrie Irving and John Wall—out due to injury, this particular contest would come down to depth, an equation that usually favors the Cs but historically hasn’t always worked out that way against Washington. The Boston reserves did plenty of good work this time, but ultimately it was a poor result for our heroes.
Ultimately this was a tale of two halves: Celtics dominance for much of the first, Wizards comeback during the second. And despite some heroics from Terry Rozier in the post-regulation basketball, Boston had lost enough of a step for Washington to eke out the win, 125-124.
THE GAME FLOW
Guerschon Yabusele started this game. I don’t think there’s any way to start the meat of the recap other than that. But while you might consider that prelude to the description of a massacre that got rolling early, the Celtics used the surprise factor to their advantage; after all, there’s no way Wizards coach Scott Brooks game-planned for Yabu. (It’s questionable how much “game planning” Brooks does in toto, but that’s another matter.) By going with a super-sized lineup whose “smallest” players are the absurdly lengthy Rozier and Tatum, Brad Stevens had the Cs packing the paint on defense and blitzing on offense.
Before six minutes of the first quarter passed, the Celtics had a 21-6 lead on the backs of Rozier and Mook Morris, who went into microwave mode and didn’t look back. The Wiz’s only life during that initial span came from Tomas Satoransky, a versatile backup guard (who, by virtue of being Euro and having weirdo-goodish stat lines, is naturally a cult favorite on NBA Twitter; draw your own conclusions). D.C. recovered enough from their initial deficit thanks to their bench, considerably improved from its godawful nature last year, yet still remained down by double digits. Boston’s reserves aren’t as much better than those playing for Washington than was the case the season before this one, but they maintained and even expanded on the lead established by the starters. Shane Larkin and Greg Monroe aka MOOSE FROM GREG made their presences particularly felt.
Adam Himmelsbach, who mans the Cs beat for the Globe, pointed out on Twitter that while Boston’s shotmaking was tremendous, the Wizards’ effort on both ends was minimal for much of the first half. Just as I was starting to gloat over this, however, Markieff Morris emerged from his coma of the embarrassment resulting from his brother besting him to make a few key shots. Also, Ian Mahinmi, Kelly Oubre and Mike Scott made up for the slack of the starters (Bradley Beal was nonexistent as a scorer) to cut their squad’s deficit in half. Fortunately, the advantage of a 20-plus point lead is that it’s still almost a 10 point lead at the half, as Boston’s was—59-52 when the buzzer rang.
The Wizards found the mojo that had been complete absent them in the third quarter, particularly due to Beal remembering, “Oh, wait, I’m like an All-Star and shit” and playing like it, earning 16 of his 21 points through three frames during Q3. Otto Porter, who’s not as outstanding a pure scorer but almost as dead-eyed a sniper, also woke up. While the Cs kept apace with them for the most part, the offense slowed down enough for the Wiz’s invigoration to eventually bring about a lead change. This reversal of fortune held through the end of Q3, but at least didn’t get particularly worse, with D.C. holding an 81-80 advantage. Monroe’s presence inside was a huge part of what kept them alive.
Rozier, Larkin and Tatum came into the game’s final frame with appropriate urgency, and managed to reestablish a lead for the Celtics. But Marcus Morris, who’s caught a fair amount of flak from Celtics fans for his inconsistency this season, turned out to be a huge factor in this contest. He shot with more care than usual and took advantage of his size on mismatches to get to the free-throw line more times than any other Boston player.
In fairness, a fair number of the dumb things were on the Celtics. Beal blew past Baynes on defensive switches to get to the cup multiple times, and the shooting of T-Ro and Tatum went cold in the final minutes, including from the stripe. But two overlong reviews at the 0:13 and 0:05 marks killed any momentum Boston had reestablished in Q4, and Mook Morris blew a key defensive possession that led to an open corner three from Jodie Meeks, who is shockingly still alive, let alone still in the NBA, which tied it at the last minute and sent us to overtime—the first overtime.
Satoransky took the wheel for a lot of this initial bonus period, and much as I snarked at him earlier, he is a genuinely effective player: Most of his contributions weren’t scoring but rather passing and defense, with ‘Kieff Morris and Porter shouldering the shotmaking load. Kieff’s brother kept up the strong play he’d exhibited, but he and the rest of the team were starting to tire. Tatum, in particular, showed his fatigue in misses of shots he usually did well, and blew free throws at critical moments, including a particularly brutal choke after making an incredible circus shot at the rim to get to the line in the first place. This sent us to a second OT, in which Porter, Beal and Kieff made their shots and the Celtics made theirs—most memorably Rozier—but the damage was already done. Beal iced the game with clutch free throws despite having been inaccurate as any Celtic for much of the game, and the Wizards limped away with a W.
HOT SHIT: The majority of the first half, strong performances from Rozier, Morris, Monroe and Tatum.
NOT QUITE IT: The drop-0ff in the second half, mediocre free-throw shooting around the squad (not just Tatum),
SCARY TERRY ATTAC
Regardless of the final result of the game, this Tatum play whipped ass: