Can the Boston Celtics Put the Washington Wizards to Shame in Game 7?
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Boston Celtics (-5) vs. Washington Wizards (+5)
In many ways, it seems like the Washington Wizards have gained the upper hand in a series through which they’ve never once been able to regain home-court advantage.
It all comes back to Game 6. The Boston Celtics showed up to Verizon Center, in Washington, wearing all black—an action that was supposed to symbolize a funeral, or in this case the end of the Wizards’ season. It didn’t. It took a game-winning three from John Wall inside four seconds to play, but the Wizards prevailed over the Celtics, giving themselves a chance on Monday night to advance to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 1979.
Indeed, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Wizards right now. They attempted 15 more shots than the Celtics inside the paint and restricted area in Game 6. Wall has been cooking for most of this series. Marcin Gortat continues to be the postseason’s best screen-setter. Bradley recaptured some of his offensive swagger on Friday night, pumping in 13 of his career-playoff high 33 points during the fourth quarter.
Still, the Celtics are favored in Game 7 for a reason: They are the better team, the deeper team, and the Wizards essentially only won Game 6 because it was so ugly.
Consider the situation entering the fourth quarter: They were shooting 2-of-19 from three-point range. They were losing the transition battle 17-3. They were shooting under 60 percent from the foul line. It was a disaster.
But the Celtics were countering the Wizards’ clang-fest with one of their own.
Head coach Brad Stevens used four reserves, who only mustered a total of five points between them. The Celtics also made just 11 of their 35 three-pointers (31.4 percent), which is allowed for the Wizards, who were 5-of-24 from deep and a minus-18 beyond the arc overall, to remain in the game. That’s the biggie as we look ahead to Game 7.
Living and dying by the three is a risky approach. Just ask the Houston Rockets. But the Celtics have outscored the Wizards by more than 100 points from long distance for this series. The Wizards cannot expect to win a series like that. The mere threat Boston’s three-point volume poses turns their own offensive blueprint upside down.
And even if the Wizards force another ugly affair, the Celtics still have guys who can get buckets in one-on-one situations. If Isaiah Thomas is struggling—he’s shooting 38.9 from the field since his 53-point explosion in Game 2—Al Horford can bully the Wizards with his post-ups. There’s also Avery Bradley, who has proved to be a true force over these last two games; he’s pretty good at creating his own shot, too.
Make no mistake, the Celtics need better performances from some combination of Jae Crowder (eight assists in Game 6 but needs to hit threes), Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. If those guys aren’t hitting shots, it makes life more difficult on Thomas. Shoot, if no one is knocking down their wide-open looks, it allows the Wizards to abandon Smart completely and throw three bodies at Thomas-Horford pick-and-rolls.
Sit down and ask yourself, though: What’s more likely? That the Celtics’ bench regains its pop and they play like the deeper team, or the Wizards steal a series they are not, truthfully, playing good enough win?
The Pick: Boston Celtics (-5)
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