May 15, 2017, 9:55 pm
After a first round with one seriously competitive series, things were looking bleak for those who wanted some white knuckle moments out of the NBA Playoffs. Golden State waltzed right through Utah while Houston folded like a cheap suit at home to end their postseason run. Out East, Cleveland stopped sleepwalking after 86 games and sent the Raptors into existential crisis.
Fortunately the Wizards and Celtics engaged in a series filled with bad blood and ill intent, giving us a hard fought battle that culminated in tonight’s Game 7 victory for Boston. Let’s run through the action in Tuesday’s Daily Dish.
Wizards 105 @ Celtics 115
The Celtics built up early leads in this one only to let Washington right back into it with short spurts of their own. A packed TD Garden watched the Wizards actually take a lead into the half and build upon it in the third quarter, nervously watching a season teeter in the balance. With so much ink spilled on Boston and whether or not the offseason champions were really getting the respect they deserved as the top seed, it was tenuous times for the Celtics faithful as the Wizards backcourt kept pushing the lead up near single digits. For a team that had the Celtics on the ropes so many times before, it was beginning to feel like they had finally cracked the code.
Fortunately for Boston, Scott Brooks was there to extend an olive branch.
Late in the third quarter, Washington turned to their bench. Ian Mahinmi and Bojan Bogdanovic entered the game. Jason Smith was called upon in the final minute of the third. The Celtics ripped off an 18-2 run and never looked back. The Celtics won the bench battle 48-5.
Mahinmi and Bogdanovic were particularly bad, as neither had a shot at defending the C’s with Kelly Olynyk pulling the immobile Mahinmi out of the paint and Boston’s perimeter players easily shaking Bogdanovic for open space. Why either re-entered the game after a poor first half is worth questioning. Why the two were played at the same time is worth scorn.
As for the other bigs, Marcin Gortat also had a poor showing despite 11 rebounds, a steal and a block. He didn’t hit his first field goal until the fourth quarter and finished with just six points. While the Wizards did win the rebounding battle 43-31, they conceded a number of open looks that their slow-footed frontcourt could never hope to contest. More on that in a moment.
When the Celtics fended off a brief pushback in the fourth quarter, the Wizards deflated quickly. Gortat and Markieff Morris had several miscommunications that allowed Boston to connect on plenty of easy layups to salt this game away. Morris had a nice, if standard game for him – a full line with a few head scratching moments. 18 points, nine rebounds, three triples, a steal and a block came with some questionable shot selection, a technical foul and some defensive lapses.
Washington’s starters were actually solid – Otto Porter finished a fantastic season with a 20-10 double-double, two swipes and a block and will be paid handsomely this summer, while their All-Star backcourt simply couldn’t put up with monstrous workloads. John Wall missed his final nine shots from the field but managed to post 18-7-11 in a whopping 44 minutes. Bradley Beal tried his best to keep the Wizards alive, canning five deep balls on his way to a game-high 38 points, but just couldn’t keep the pace up in 45:55 of play. Both were noticeably exhausted down the stretch and Washington’s horrific bench ended up costing them even beyond the direct impact of being woefully played.
As for Boston, Kelly Olynyk turned in the game of his life. He connected on four triples as part of his 26 point effort, the majority of which came on wide open looks. Teams have been daring him to beat them all postseason and he delivered in a big way tonight. While he crushed Washington’s lumbering bigs tonight, it’ll be interesting to watch his role against the Cavs. He was a central figure for much of this series and put Boston over the top tonight in a truly phenomenal performance.
Elsewhere, Isaiah Thomas lit up Washington for most of that late-third quarter run, finishing with 29 points and 12 assists on 9-of-21 shooting. He didn’t own the fourth quarter in this one but hit enough shots to put the nails in the coffin. IT and Kyrie Irving should put on a scoring show in the ECF. While he can always put the team on his back, it’ll be up to the supporting cast if the Celtics want to hang with Cleveland.
On that note, it was a well-rounded night from the Celtics, who got 14 points out of Jae Crowder and a 15-6-5 line out of Al Horford. He had a big third quarter that kept Boston within striking distance and did well to maintain a manageable deficit while Thomas rested. Marcus Smart had a 13-6-4 line of his own to go with two triples and two steals while playing some terrific defense, as usual. Avery Bradley was a bit quiet with just nine points but stuck with Wall and Beal all night, forcing them to exert a ton of energy just to get open.
With this one in the books, our final four are now set. Golden State takes on the Kawhi-less Spurs in Game 2 tomorrow while the Cavs make the trip to Boston for Wednesday’s opener. Buckle up.