In three meetings with the Washington Wizards this season, the Boston Celtics have come away victorious twice. Their last meeting on February 28th was a 111-110 victory. In the two-and-a-half months since that game, the Wizards have completely turned their season around.
The Wizards enter the postseason as winners of 17 of their last 23 games, the best mark in the NBA over that period. They’re molten hot right now, having scored more than 110 points in 20 consecutive contests. Of those 20 games, Washington has topped the 120-point mark 13 times and the 130-point mark on five occasions. Their offense is unbelievably potent.
From an individual perspective, getting to know the personnel the Wizards will play is vital to see if the shorthanded Celtics can win a one-game play-in.
Bradley Beal - 6’3” scoring guard
-2nd leading scorer in NBA, averaging 31.4 PPG while scoring in every way possible
-Offense built around he and Westbrook playing out of the pick-and-roll on different sides of the floor
-55% of his shots in the half-court are jumpers. Beautiful stroke, great at creating space for himself
-Not just a prolific jump shooter: attacks the rim, taking 7.7 free throws (making 89%)
-Face-guarded frequently in half-court. Really patient, knows how to cut backdoor, get open and shake tight defenders
-Missed 3 of last 4 games due to injury. Wonder if he’ll be able to shoulder his normal load
Russell Westbrook - 6’3” point guard
-Ridiculous triple-double average of 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 11.8 assists
-Scores or assists on 13.1 PPG in transition. Always in attack mode
-Ball-dominant in half-court, playing out of ball screens or isolations
-Shooting 31.7% from 3-point range on the year. Not great, but better than his reputation suggests
-Loves to walk smaller guards down into the post: will target Kemba Walker, Payton Pritchard
-Gets to the free throw line (6.3 times a game) but doesn’t convert (65.3%)
Davis Bertans - 6’10” stretch-forward
-Shooting assassin. Takes literally 90% of his shots from behind 3-point line
-39.4% from deep on high volume. Necessary floor-spacer around Westbrook and Beal
-Always on the move and darting off screens. Rarely stationary, involved in multi-layered stagger actions
-Doesn’t score well off the bounce. Only 21.6% on dribble jumpers, took 21 shots at the rim all year.
-Weak link defensively that most teams try to attack 1v1. Lacks lateral quickness to contain the drive
Rui Hachimura - 6’8” mobile 4
-Rapidly-improving 2nd-year forward who has rebound-and-run abilities in transition
-Competent scorer from the perimeter. Only 32.1% from 3, but very good in mid-range
-Watch out for the spin move in the post or off the drive... it’s his bread and butter
-Somewhat switchable on defense. Would expect him to be on Jayson Tatum a good deal
Alex Len - 7’0” center
-Been their starter at the 5 despite only playing 16 minutes a night. First cog in their rotation
-Turned himself into a strong rim protector defensively. His value comes in blocking shots
-Almost all his points come at the basket. Competent pick-and-roll finisher
Daniel Gafford - 6’10” center
-NBA-leader in blocks per 36 minutes. Been a monster rim protector since coming to Wizards at trade deadline
-Shooting 64.1% at the rim in DC. Outstanding finisher who has attempted 2 shots away from the rim. Knows who he is
-Relentless on the offensive glass and with his effort. Have to out-work him
Ish Smith - 6’0” point guard
-Veteran pass-first point guard who can really facilitate in the open floor or out of ball screens
-Shooting far above his head this year at 37.5% from 3. Massive improvement for him
Robin Lopez - 7’0” center
-30th in the NBA in ORB per game despite playing less than 20 minutes a night
-Great rim protector in drop pick-and-roll coverage. Plays the same style as Gafford and Len, giving Wizards clear identity
Chandler Hutchison - 6’6” wing
-Traditional 3-and-D wing who has been low-volume from deep since arriving at trade deadline
-Really smart cutter around Beal and Westbrook’s ISO actions. Can’t fall asleep against him
Raul Neto - 6’1” point guard
-Savvy veteran PG who is a pick-pocketer on defense and competent shooter on offense
-Battling a hamstring injury. Not sure he’ll be 100% for Tuesday
This season has been a roller coaster in Washington. Youngsters Deni Avdija and Thomas Bryant, staples of the team’s long-term plan, have missed significant time with injuries and are done for the season. They’ve made a ton of roster moves, as 21 players have suited up for the Wiz and logged minutes this year. It’s been a revolving door of undersized guards, slashing wings and unorthodox bigs throughout.
The porous defense, 20th in the NBA, is improved from last year’s abysmal effort, thanks in large part to the presences of Lopez, Len and Gafford. They’re serviceable bigs who communicate from the inside. But the Wizards play Bertans, Hachimura and a big together frequently, creating a massive lineup that really lacks foot speed.
How do they get away with it? They collapse heavily on drives and use their bigs to simply protect the rim.
Bertans playing the 3 is the mismatch that pretty much everyone tries to attack. Bertans is instructed to play up and force the drive instead of sitting back and daring his man to shoot. Len, Lopez and Gafford all help collapse on the drive, establish verticality at the rim and blanket the team’s worst defender with a strong chest:
The Celtics can’t fall into the trap of trying to go after the weakest link time and time again. Washington’s defense, especially after the arrival of Daniel Gafford, has been constructed to sustain these hits. They want to trade twos for threes, force drives and completely barricade the rim with their length and seemingly endless frontcourt rotation.
On drives when there are two bigger guys around Bertans, check out how many bodies (and long arms) swarm the ball and drown out a finisher:
To beat the Wizards, you have to find ways to finish at the rim or, at the very least, get second-chance points when those bigs help. Attacking the offensive glass is key on Tuesday: the Wizards are 25th in the NBA, allowing 10.3 offensive boards a game. Miss on those opportunities and you deal with an up-tempo team, paced by former MVP Russell Westbrook, getting out in transition and turning up the pace.
As mentioned earlier, this is a hypercharged offense that loves to go. While most modern up-tempo offenses are predicated on space and 3-point attempts, the Wizards are a relentless assault on the rim for 48 minutes. They lead the NBA in two-point and free throw attempts, and are second in transition frequency. They do not stop.
Everything is run through the two guards in the backcourt. Westbrook is a tireless 32-year-old, and Beal is the efficient scorer who can do a little bit of everything.
Things start with Westbrook, their full-court initiator, who tries to get the team into offense. He loves to clear out one side of the floor for an isolation to attack. Frequently, that ISO will come after a brush screen in semi-transition that forces an advantageous switch. He just licks his chops and waits to go one-on-one with anyone in his path:
If Westbrook is going at a smaller guard (like Kemba Walker or Payton Pritchard), the rest of the defense tends to stare at the ball and prepare to sprint with help. They’ll also hug Bradley Beal, the team’s leading scorer, to deny him the ball. But the rest of the Wizards are really good about stationing themselves in positions that make double-teams impossible and helping spring Beal free on back cuts.
When the ball is in the hands of Westbrook, the Celtics have to make sure they don’t lose track of where Beal is:
Beal’s game is a little more nuanced and doesn’t see as much standing around when he has the ball. He’s constantly in motion and is a terrific threat without the ball in his hands. The Wizards will set a ton of wide pindowns for him, screens where he starts in the corner and darts up to the wing.
As an outstanding shooter, he makes a killing in these sets:
Because Beal has been such a strong offensive threat and averaged over 30 points a game, he gets a ton of special attention. Even the Celtics have tried to top lock, or play on the high side of Beal, so that he cannot catch the ball on the perimeter and is forced to go backdoor.
The rest of the Wizards know their role: help Beal and Westbrook score. When teams jump high-side of those incoming screens, the screener flips the angle so that Beal can dart backdoor to the rim for a layup:
There are tons of other sets and minor traits to the Wizards offense, but they go as Beal and Westbrook go. Stopping these two, or at least making someone else beat you, is the way to advance to the next round. Beal only has ten games with under 25 points. In those ten, and the twelve games he didn’t play, Washington is 5-17. They’re also 7-3 when Westbrook scores 30 or more. Cut off the head of the snake and the team will flounder.
This Wizards team isn’t one to take lightly. While the emotional roller-coaster of this season in Beantown has drained many, the postseason is what every player on the roster has worked towards. Now it’s here, and it’s time for these guys to embrace the challenge of competing without one of their All-Stars in Jaylen Brown.
Playoff basketball is here. Let’s get a bit excited, shall we?