The Wizards’ loss Wednesday in Boston wasn’t as devastating as the Capitals’ loss that night at Verizon Center. But the Wizards’ defeat in Game 5 felt just as bad as their co-tenants’ season-ender in Game 7.
Just in case a particular slice of NBA history was unbeknown, every media outlet has blasted it ever since Washington evened matters with the Celtics: The winner of Game 5 in a 2-2 series proceeds to win the series 83 percent of the time.
First things first, though. The Game 7 that the Wizards wanted no part of when they headed to Boston, has vaulted to the top of their wish list. They just need the series to hold form once more – Friday – in order to break it Monday by winning on the road. Neither team this season has accomplished that feat.
The Wizards seemed poised to do so, arriving at TD Garden after back-to-back blowouts in D.C. Surely sleeping in their own beds, driving their own cars and being in their own environment couldn’t make that much of a difference. They were so much better than Boston in winning Games 3 and 4, and almost prevailing in Games 1 and 2.
Wrong, wronger and wrongest.
They were supposed to be beyond what transpired Wednesday, a 123-101 walloping in which their final lead was 4-2. Washington trailed by 12 points after the first quarter and never drew closer. The deficit ballooned to 26 points in the second half. Thoughts of an inspired comeback departed quicker than the Celtics on leakouts.
Whatever happened on the flight from D.C. needs to be part of the Wizards’ film study. It can’t happen again if they make a return trip.
“When you give a very good team transition points it’s going to be hard to keep up with them,” coach Scott Brooks told reporters. “We didn’t have the focus we had to have going into this game. We knew that they were going to come out aggressive and they did.”
Not to say that Brooks’ players were passive, but they appeared to stage a sit-in while the Celtics raced up and down the court.
This result would’ve been more understandable in the previous round, when the Wizards went to Atlanta for Game 6. It wasn’t a must-win situation but they stepped on the Hawks’ throats, opening a 19-point lead at halftime and holding on as the advantage dwindled to three points late in the game.
That was the sign of a mature, confident team, overcoming a hostile environment and getting the job done in a closeout game. Unfortunately, the Wizards didn’t learn a thing from that experience. On Wednesday, they played as if a potential Game 7 would take place at home, not an arena where they haven’t won since the 2013-14 season.
“I really don’t think we relaxed,” Wizards guard John Wall told reporters. “I think they kind of surprised us.”
The only real surprise was Washington’s level of non-competitiveness. They should’ve known Boston would be in “win-or-go-home” mode. Celtics star Isaiah Thomas made it plain beforehand, stating he was treating the contest “as the biggest game that I’ve ever played. Hopefully, everybody else is treating it like that.”
Thomas’ teammates got the message, especially backcourt mate Avery Bradley. He notched a playoff career high by halftime (25 points), hitting 10 of 13 shots, including 4 of 5 three-pointers. He finished with 29 points and had plenty of help from Al Horford (19) and Jae Crowder (18). Their efforts helped the Celtics win with Thomas in a complementary role, scoring 18 points with nine assists and numerous invaluable picks.
“That’s how I have to play,” Thomas told reporters. “As a basketball player, you have to read what the defense is giving you, and they’re really having two to three guys on me at all times. What I’m trying to do is just give other guys space, space for others and also be a good screen setter.”
If the key to this series is simply “home cooking,” the Wizards better bring their own chefs if they return to Boston.
All hope isn’t lost because they’ve yet to lose at Verizon Center and could get another crack on the Celtics’ parquet. Better if they had gotten it done in Games 1, 2 or 5, but it never matters which one you steal.
Their Verizon Center co-tenants extended their miserable run of bad history Wednesday. Don’t look now, but the Wizards have a mini-streak of their own: Each of the previous two playoff appearances ended with elimination games at home. The Celtics will try to make it 3-for-3 on Friday.
“It’s no more bitter feeling than that, losing at home and getting knocked at that, too,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal told reporters.
That will be the case for one of these teams or the Wizards will watch Boston’s crowd go wild.
— 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.