There are numerous ways to impact a basketball game. You can score. Set screens. Rebound. Make passes. Defend.
Washington coach Scott Brooks notes that many players are overly fascinated with putting the ball in the basket. Conversely, most coaches – with Houston’s Mike D’Antoni the notable exception – strongly prefer stops as difference makers.
Sometimes, both factions can have their way. Coaches get the extra-effort, in-your-face defense they crave, and players fly up down the court torching the scoreboard. When that happens, the result can be ugly for the opposition. Boston found out the hard way, 121-102, as it was routed for the second consecutive game in the second-round series.
Observers who went to Verizon Center only for the last couple of games are wondering how brooms weren’t passed out on Sunday. They find it hard to fathom that this Celtics team opened the series by beating this Wizards team twice in Boston.
Nothing that transpired in downtown D.C. suggests these squads are remotely close. The visitors were manhandled on the boards and in the paint, overwhelmed by the Wizards’ size and length. There were glimpses of the mismatch in Boston, too, just not long enough or convincingly enough for a win.
But if you look at the totality of Washington’s play in this series, there’s little doubt which team is superior.
The rebounding was even in Game 1, but the Wizards’ advantage in subsequent contests has been three, 12 and 14. They have a whopping 66-point advantage in points in the paint. They enjoyed second-half leads of 26 points (Sunday) and 30 points (Thursday), built on withering, defense-fueled runs.
Brooks couldn’t be more ecstatic.
“It’s probably our best stretch of basketball,” he said of a 26-0, third quarter blitz that ended the competitive portion of a game that was tied at halftime. “Defensively we were in the right position. … It pays off.”
At their best, the Wizards are a share-the-wealth outfit, with point guard John Wall setting up teammates for three-pointers, lay-ups and everything in-between. He had 27 points after the third quarter, joined in double-figures by Bradley Beal (20), Otto Porter Jr. (18) and Markieff Morris (14).
Wall had 13 points and five assists in the third quarter alone while Morris added 10 points and four assists. The Celtics committed nine turnovers leading to 21 points, a blow they couldn’t recover from. A similar extended drought (22-0) doomed them in Game 3.
“Any team that gets hit with that, it’s going to be hard to win,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said. “But the only they did was take care of business at home, like we did.”
Yes, and all W’s look the same in the win column.
But there’s a distinctly different feel between the pair in Boston and the pair in D.C. Washington jumped out to a 16-0 lead in Game 1. The Wizards had the ball and took two would-be winning shots at the buzzer in Game 2. They have every reason to feel good about their chances against Boston, even as the series returns north.
Conversely, the Celtics were beaten so soundly here, there must be doubts about their ability to match up. Washington closed out the first-round series on the road in Atlanta. This time, a crucial road win on Wednesday would setup a potential closeout game Friday at Verizon Center.
Home cooking can provide only so much confidence.
“They’re a really good team,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “They’re talented and athletic and their length is bothering us.”
Neither team this season has won on the other’s home floor. But the Wizards seem poised to break that streak as their coach’s pleas pay off. He has told them time and again that trying to outscore opponents isn’t their best path, though it’s often enough against lesser competition.
Instead, Brooks wants Washington’s defense to spark the offense, leading to easy transition baskets and open three-pointers – exactly what happened in the third quarter.
“We have to make them take tough shots and get out and use our speed,” Brooks said. “John’s one of the fastest players in the league and we have good shooters on the wings. But it doesn’t work if don’t make stops.”
Boston shot 31.3 percent in the third quarter compared to the Wizards’ 65 percent. No more open looks for Thomas (5-for-6 behind the arc in the first half). No more letting Kelly Olynyk hurt them (eight points in first half). No more lackadaisical defense and inattention to details.
I believe they get it now.
“We realized at halftime we weren’t defending the way we’re capable,” Beal said. “We came out with a better mindset that everything was going to stem from the defensive end.”
Said Wall: “We have to bring the same defensive intensity that we had the two games here. Because when we played there, we didn’t play great defense and still had a chance to win those games.”
Chances are they won’t make that mistake again.
Not with Brooks pounding the message home.
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.