BOSTON – LeBron is in sight.
After two humiliating losses in Washington, the Celtics came home and throttled the Washington Wizards 123-101, pushing John Wall and the Wiz to the brink. Boston heads back to Washington for an elimination game Friday as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers await a potential Game 1 Monday.
Coach Brad Stevens had conducted one of his best symphonies of the playoffs, making small tweaks to the Celtics’ substitution patterns and offensive sets to hit Washington’s weak spots.
Stevens stuck with Amir Johnson as the second starting big, and it paid off in spades. After quickly stumbling into a 4-0 hole to open the game, Boston exploded with a 20-4 run, finally hitting first in this series for the first time. Johnson culminated the run with an acrobatic alley-oop in transition, capping off his best run of the past month.
Jaylen Brown got his chance, serving as the first sub to bridge the gap between the first and second units. Despite not taking a shot until the fourth quarter, he had a +16 differential in 25 minutes. He committed four fouls, something that would usually have gotten him a quick yank. But Stevens stayed patient and reaped the benefits of the rookie’s transition energy and defensive switching.
But the night belonged to the Celtics’ reliable two-way leaders, Avery Bradley and Al Horford. Bradley had a playoff career-high 29 points on 12-for-19 shooting. Avery was everywhere on the floor, drilling threes from the wings and corners while throwing down multiple dunks in transition. It was all facilitated by Al Horford, who had one of his most complete games of his Celtics career, despite the modest stat totals.
Stevens’s biggest “adjustment” was opting to run Horford as a true point-center, using him to initiate half-court actions for most of the second quarter. Whether it was 5-1 pick-and-rolls with Isaiah Thomas or high-low post-up entry passes, Horford pulled off just about every set in the Celtics playbook. He finished with 19 points (8-for-9 shooting), 7 assists and 6 rebounds in 28 minutes. His true shooting percentage for the night was 100.6%, pulling off the seemingly impossible.
When coupling Horford’s creative usage with three blocks and countless contests at the rim, he had yet another perfect Horford performance.