With the game in the balance and the Celtics trailing by seven points, Brad Stevens went to a group that more resembled a lineup he might have played at Butler than anything we’ve seen in Boston.
At the 10:01 mark of the fourth quarter with the Celtics trailing 95-88, Stevens subbed in Al Horford, and for the next 5:31, Boston played with a lineup of Horford, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and either Avery Bradley or Jaylen Brown. Essentially, the Celtics went with four guards around one big.
The results were decidedly in Boston’s favor, as they outscored Washington 16-8 over that stretch and forced the Wizards into matchups they simply couldn’t defend. With the floor spaced as wide as it possibly could be, Thomas scored 11 of his 20 fourth-quarter points during this period.
Look at the spacing on that play. No Celtic is anywhere near the paint. John Wall, who was basically exhausted at this point, doesn’t have a chance at chasing Thomas with that much room to work.
Again, the spacing is incredible. Markieff Morris has to try and defend Marcus Smart, while Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter are stretched to stick with Horford and Rozier in the corners.
This time Thomas draws Porter, as the Wizards lazily switched when they didn’t have to, and Porter has no chance at defending Thomas with that kind of room. And look where Gortat and Morris are on the play. Neither is in the paint. All Thomas has to do is get by or over Porter and he has an easy finish.
Stevens then closed the fourth and played overtime with his preferred “IT & D” lineup that featured Jae Crowder inserted into the grouping. But that lineup, while slightly bigger, is still a small-ball grouping. Stevens, again dipping back to his Butler days, played a lot of offense/defense late by subbing around Thomas, Smart and Rozier. But because of the Celtics’ “smalls” willingness to fight and scrap, and their coach putting them in spots to succeed, they can get away with things other teams can’t.
It also helps when the smallest small of them all has the biggest heart and can put an entire city on his back and carry them to greatness. One more clip, because it was the best of the night:
Thomas gets Morris in a switch and proceeds to toy with him before hitting an and-1 jumper. The Wizards couldn’t switch it back to a better matchup because of the way the Celtics spaced the floor. This shot effectively clinched the game for Boston, sent Morris to bench with his sixth foul (Thomas barking at him the whole way) and sent the crowd into hysterics. Special night for a special player who is part of a special group that might just do some special things.