To say the Boston Celtics played the Washington Wizards on Monday night might be something of an overstatement. Their foes from the nation’s capital were missing seven players do to injury, fielding an assortment of funky lineups featuring mostly NBA journeymen and little known players hanging on to the fringes of the league.
To say that the Celtics played basketball in the game’s first quarter might be similarly misleading. Boston ended the first frame down 26-17. The team’s starting unit submitted a series of dispirited possessions on both ends of the court that the bench did little to remedy. The Celtics turned the ball over six times in the first quarter, forcing none of their own, and watching their defense get sliced up by the likes of Ish Smith and Isaac Bonga.
Things didn’t get any prettier in the second. Boston vomited up missed threes at an astonishing pace, managing to make just 5 of their 19 attempts from beyond the arc, good for 26.3% rate, just a hair above their 29.2% performance from the field for the half. The Celtics struggles shooting the ball had little to do with the Wizards, whose defense was remarkably poor.
The Wizards are confused defensively or playing the worst zone defense I've ever seen. Or maybe it's both.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) January 7, 2020
Boston tried to set a different tone to start the game’s second half, opening play with a Marcus Smart steal that led to a transition basket for Daniel Theis. The Celtics’ defensive intensity, and by extension impact, remained markedly improved from there. Boston used its length to get in passing lanes, cut off avenues to the hoop, and generate transition points by forcing turnovers.
Scoring in the halfcourt remained a struggle, as did defending Washington’s point guards. Former Celtics start Isaiah Thomas put up 17 points against his old squad. His back up, Smith, posted an astonishingly efficient 27 of his own, finishing the game 12-of-18 from the field, while chipping in 4 assists to boot, and receiving multiple MVP chants.
Boston, playing its third game in four nights, looked sluggish down the stretch, but received an infusion of energy from Tremont Waters and Grant Williams that kept things close. The rookie duo combined for 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 assist, shooting a collective 6-of-9 from the field, and looking like the only pair of players whose shoes weren’t stuck in cement.
It wasn’t enough, as Boston ultimately fell to Washington by a final score of 99-94. The Celtics were clearly gassed, and were missing their primary offensive engine in Kemba Walker due to illness, but neither fatigue nor the absence of their star scoring point guard is a sufficient excuse for losing to a severely undermanned Wizards team.