In retrospect, the Celtics are probably regretting the “funeral attire” worn to tonight’s game. While their greatest player, Isaiah Thomas, was shut down for much of the game, secondary stars like Al Horford and Avery Bradley continued to shine. Unfortunately, though, the Celtics couldn’t finish the series out as the Wizards came storming back in the final minute to send the series to Game 7 in Boston on Monday night.
The Game Flow
While it wasn’t the start they were hoping for, the Celtics did manage to stay within striking distance after allowing some pretty ugly numbers to fester in their box score. Perhaps the ugliest of them all, the team in Green missed 11 of 13 attempts from the field at one point, then ended having gone O-fer for the final 5:21 of the quarter. The Celtics turned the ball over 4 times, including a pair from Horford (who was otherwise his sharp self to begin the game – finishing with 4 points and 4 rebounds in the 1st).
The highlight of the quarter for the Celtics came when John Wall was denied a layup in transition thanks to textbook defense from Marcus Smart and a last second perfectly placed block by Kelly Olynyk. You don’t hear that last part often, so I don’t blame you if you had to read that sentence again. Nevertheless, the 17 points scored in the 1st quarter was tied for the lowest point total in any quarter of the series – plus the Wizards nearly matched that point total in the paint ALONE, as the Celtics defense surrendered 14 points down-low to begin the game. The Wizards ultimately took their largest lead of the game at the time (5 points) to the begin the 2nd quarter.
The Wizards increased their physicality in the 2nd to questionable results. While this decision had an impact on Isaiah Thomas having only made shots from beyond the arc (2-6 from the field in the half), Marcin Gortat also quickly earned his 3rd personal foul and became a non-factor on the bench after just 9 minutes of gametime. The Celtics were then able to clean up their act in the paint a bit, allowing just 8 to the Wizards during the 2nd quarter.
Boston’s defense continued to stifle John Wall, who finished shooting just 1 of 9 from the field during the half, but allowed Bradley Beal to look like a superstar. He utilized his size advantage relative to his defenders by consistently working in the post, and was rewarded with 5 of his 6 made baskets coming in the paint. It seemed that everybody, save for 3 people, were having difficulties scoring tonight. In fact, I looked it up – Beal, Bradley, and Horford were responsible for 15 of the 31 total made field goals during the first half. That’s over 48% of FG’s from 3 players.
The Wizards still managed to drive the game to a 10 point lead despite a dreadful free throw percentage (46%) to match their ugly shooting from the field (42%) on the half. This was a game of transition, and the Wizards had taken control after Boston’s misses. The turn-around for Boston resulted from 2 main factors: great ball movement, led by Isaiah Thomas’ beautiful reads, and defensive effort, marked by Avery Bradley’s pension to cause and/or scoop up any loose ball on the court. The Celtics ended the half with a 12-0 run and their first lead since it was 2-0 to begin the game, but the team had been shooting a horrific 35% from the field. They’d head into the 3rd quarter with a 42-41 lead, but would need to improve upon their shooting in order to win the game.
The Celtics offensive game remained the same as far as the players it relied on, however, these players improved upon their efficiency in the 3rd quarter. Al Horford, much like he did to start the game, scored Boston’s first points via the paint. He hit half of his 3s and he provided much of the offensive support to Avery Bradley’s second consecutive breakout performance.
Bradley had finished with 22 points in just 3 total quarters (27 overall) and was drilling everything from 3’s to floaters with ease. His defensive pressure never wavered, either, and he led the Celtics in transition- many times receiving the perfect outlet pass from Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics were leading the fast break race 17-3 by the end of the 3rd, but this was mitigated by the amount of 2nd chance points allowed to the Wizards (14 compared to just 2 second chance points for the Celtics). Isaiah Thomas made a huge 3 to stretch the Celtics lead with just about a minute left in the 3rd, but the Wizards Markieff Morris’ offensive rebound and tip-in near the end of the quarter made it just a one point game heading into the 4th.
The 4th quarter of this decisive game 6 went exactly as they normally do in the NBA- the stars took over. The Celtics defense allowed Wall to get loose during the 2nd half, as he exploded for the Wizards and contributed to one of the oddest stats of the night: Markieff Morris, John Wall, and Bradley Beal had been responsible for ALL of the Wizards second half points – a total of 51. The Celtics stars weren’t to be outdone, though, as Isaiah Thomas built upon his step-back 3 to end last quarter with a pair of back-to-back CLUTCH 3’s that brought the Celtics ahead 87-82 with just a minute and a half left in the game.
With the Wizards’ backs up against the wall, they pressured IT in the halfcourt and it worked. The C’s turnover resulted in Bradley Beal’s one successful 3 point attempt (he attempted eight). The game then went back and forth for the final minute in a microcosm of what this series has become. Wall’s defense and trip to the free throw line tied it, then Avery Bradley and Bradley Beal exchanged 2’s; but as if it were destiny, Isaiah Thomas fed Al Horford who drilled a bank shot to take the lead, 91-89, with 7.7 seconds to go.
But nope! Not destiny at all- Just a cruel tease.
Avery Bradley played solid defense on John Wall in the waning seconds, but perhaps sagged off just a foot to far. Wall rose for a 3 and drilled it despite Bradley recovering to get a hand in his face at the last second. The Wizards star finished with 23 in the half, and gave his team the edge to send the series back to Boston. Final Score: 92-91.
Isaiah Thomas finished with 27 points but shot just 33% from the field. His real impact came through passing (finishing with 7 assists) and his clutch shooting – this being his second consecutive made 3 pointer in under a minute.
Like I said above, Avery Bradley could have kept a little more pressure on the ball here but I can understand that he wanted to respect Wall’s speed. AB almost recovered in time to disrupt the shot by putting his hand in Wall’s face but at that point Wall had risen and seen the rim well enough to shoot. It would have been EXTRA sweet to close them out tonight on their home court, but it wasn’t in the cards.
Avery Bradley once again BALLED in this one, so shouts have to go out to him. He finished with 27 points on an efficient 10 of 18 from the field to go along with 4 steals and 3 rebounds. Hopefully this play will continue into Monday night’s game 7.
Avery Bradley: 27pts, 4stls, 3rebs (10-18FG)
Al Horford: 20pts, 6rebs, 3asts (8-12FG)
Isaiah Thomas: 27pts, 7asts, 3rebs (8-24FG)
Bradley Beal: 33pts, 5asts, 2rebs, (15-26FG)
John Wall: 26pts, 8asts, 2rebs, 2blks (9-25FG)