The Celtics got swept up in the John Wall tornado Sunday night.
After Boston got off to their first good start in the series, Wall blew them away as the Washington Wizards beat the Celtics 121-102 to send the series back to Boston tied at two games a piece.
The Celtics have talked constantly about keeping the Wizards from beating them in transition. But when Washington went on a remarkable 26-0 run in the third quarter, it was nothing but transition dominance from Wall and the Wiz. Even their coach Scott Brooks was amazed.
“You guys were good,” Brooks said in the huddle as shown on TNT. “I didn’t think you were going to be this good.”
Forty-two to twenty in the third quarter good. “That’s probably our best stretch of basketball [this season],” Brooks said after the game.
This was the apex of a Jeckyll-and-Hyde Wizards team: elite at home and lottery-bound on the road. The Wizards have the biggest differential in winning percentage at home vs. the road in the entirety of the season, and the Celtics have witnessed that stark disparity first hand. The Wizards look malleable and scrapping in Boston but are a complete force at home.
It was the night where peak John Wall came out to hold down his house.
John Wall took over the 3rd quarter pic.twitter.com/yhce4J3Q06— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 8, 2017
John Wall was completely unleashed in the third, getting out on the break on nearly every possession and looking like a blur. The Celtics rely on the defensive mirroring of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder to keep up their intensity, but they were horrendous. Smart continues to struggle to stay in the game, with Stevens going to Rozier for much of the closing lineup minutes.
But nobody could stop Beal, and nobody could come close to containing Wall. He had a horrible 0-for-8 first-half performance, but he put in a game’s worth of perfection in the third quarter, including one of the best passes in the playoffs this season.
John Wall, the Wizard.— NBA (@NBA) May 8, 2017
This was the hallmark of the Wizards’ 26-0 third quarter run, in which the Celtics committed 8 turnovers in 8 minutes, including the cardinal sin of back-to-back shot-clock violations. Wall finished with 27 points, 12 assists and 5 steals in a Wall Tidal Wave performance that sets up a best-of-three finish to this series.
“If you turn the ball over against these guys, you’d prefer to drop-kick it into the stands, so at least you can set your defense,” Brad Stevens said in his post-game press conference.”
The Celtics got buried yet again by a brutal Wizards run where his team was left gasping for air. Washington scored 34 points off of the Celtics 20 turnovers on 14-for-19 shooting.
“If they have a 22-0 run or a 26-0 run, we’re not going to win,” Stevens said. “I think that’s pretty obvious.”
It was in fact the longest unanswered run in the last 20 years of the NBA playoffs per Elias Sports.
In a game where Isaiah Thomas never saw the free throw line, he expressed frustration at the lack of calls while recognizing the run was their deathblow.
“I mean, 26-0 in the playoffs, that’s why we lost,” Thomas said. “But the calls should be a little more even in a season where I was top 5 in free throw attempts and makes and I play the same way every night.”
Thomas went into detail on his complaints of the officiating, citing the kinds of techniques often deployed by his teammates to limit opposing scorers off the ball.
“They were very physical. The refs were allowing them to hold and grab and do all those things. I think especially in that third quarter, I might have hit the ground five or six straight times and I’m not the one that likes hitting the ground. So, I think It got to be called differently. I’m not saying that’s the reason we lost. They went on a 26-0 run and we can’t have that on the road. But I can’t be allowed to be held and grabbed every pindown, every screen and I don’t shoot one free throw. IU play the same way each and every night. OS I think that has to change. They also paid a lot more attention to me. They didn’t allow me to get any open looks after a little bit of the second quarter and as a team we’ve got to do a better job figuring that out and taking advantage of what they’re doing to us.”
The Wizards were successfully physical with Thomas. While his post-game complaints were technically true to a degree, the Wizards destroyed them regardless.
Morris when asked what was going through his head during 26-0 run: "Blow them the [expletive] out."— Todd Dybas (@Todd_Dybas) May 8, 2017
According to Celtics stat guru Dick Lipe (as relayed by CSNNE’s Abby Chin), the 73 second-half points allowed were the most but the Celtics in a playoff game since May 24, 1987 and are the fourth most in franchise history.
Stevens keeps making starting lineup adjustments and has relied on Terry Rozier invariably, but the tinkering is far from over.
“I’ve got some [changes] in mind, but I’ll look at the tape.”
A big issue for Boston is that they are not seeing any consistent offensive ball flow, with countless actions to find open looks going unrewarded.
“We have to do a better job of utilizing spacing to take some of their length out of the play,” Stevens said.
Boston’s biggest concern is that their key defenders are all struggling. Avery Bradley is the only one who has played consistently effective on-ball defense this postseason, but his hip pointer is becoming more of an issue. MassLive’s Jay King relayed that Avery Bradley is now dealing with a left hip pointer after suffering a right hip pointer earlier in the series. John Wall and Bradley Beal are slowly murdering the Celtics backcourt.
So the Celtics still have home-court advantage, which is a sliver of a silver lining. Kevin Pelton of ESPN had an interesting statistical observation for this unique scenario, although he did warn it may just be statistical noise.
Weird stat: when the lower seed is plus-20 or better in a 2-2 series like Washington (plus-24), they've lost all five series since 1984.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) May 8, 2017
Considering the Wizards’ track record for performance at home and the road, the Celtics still have an upper hand. But Washington is not just beating the Celtics—they are vanquishing them.
This was a big win for Washington, but it was especially enjoyable for one player not on the floor.