The second quarter of the Boston Celtics play-in game against the Washington Wizards was brutal to watch. Boston started the game off in the first quarter pretty well, and seemed to have a good rhythm offensively, while playing some solid defense on the other end. But the second quarter saw this team fall back into their old ways, and stick to purely isolation plays and three point shooting. The Celtics watched the Wizards go from down by eight at the start of the second to up by eight towards the end of the quarter.
Then the third quarter rolled around, and the Celtics dominated. We had an inkling of hope due to them keeping the game close and cutting the deficit to two by halftime, but it was the best this team has looked for quite some time. The cause of the change was simple; the Celtics attacked the Wizards on offense. Too often this team becomes passive and settles for low quality shots, which is exactly how the second quarter went. But they worked on finding the best shot possible on offense to open the third, and their offense took off as a result.
Here is a perfect example of how this was accomplished. Jayson Tatum gets the ball in the corner with a bit of room, but quickly sees Bradley Beal and Rui Hachimura rush towards him. He could probably have shot over Beal’s awkward contest, but he up fakes and Beal goes flying past him. Hachimura seals Tatum to the baseline, giving Tatum space to shoot the three again. Instead, Tatum takes the lane on the baseline right to the rim, and does a nifty euro step finish to draw an and-one shot.
This simple play helps open so much more on the offensive side of things. With Tatum driving to the rim, the Wizards can’t simply play high on the perimeter because he will just run right past them. As a result, Washington’s defense sinks in more, and led to some easy three pointers for Tatum and Kemba Walker all quarter long.
Here’s an example how that works. This is just a play off of a rebound grabbed by Marcus Smart. But as he’s bringing the ball up, watch the Wizards defenders. Three of them shrink towards the paint, leaving a ton of space open at the perimeter for this open three from Tatum. Because the Celtics had been forcing the issue, and pushing the ball to the hoop, Washington played further off, and the perimeter opened up in the second half as a result.
The attack of the paint also produced in other ways for Boston as well. The Celtics had 32 free throws as a team compared to Washington’s 20, with 17 of those going to Tatum, who ended up hitting all 17 of them too. It’s a lot easier to get fouled on a layup than a jumpshot, so even if you don’t have a great take in the paint, there’s a decent chance you will get sent to the line. That happened time and again last night, as Tatum and the Celtics kept finding their way to the charity stripe for some easy points.
Defensively, the Celtics smothered Washington in a way we have rarely seen this season. The Wizards certainly aren’t known for being a good three point shooting team, but they only managed to shoot 3/21 from behind the arc. Holding a team with Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, one of the NBA’s best sharpshooters, to that few makes from three is a huge reason for the win. They consistently kept Russell Westbrook off balance the entire night, and he never was able to impact the game in his usual manner. It was a great sign, especially as Boston now prepares to face on of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league.
One concerning aspect of the game was the lack of help Tatum and Walker got. They combined for 79 of the Celtics 118 points, with Tatum doing the most damage dropping 50 points himself. Tristan Thompson had 12 points, but no other Celtic player hit double digits. Somebody else is going to have to step up to help these two as a seven game set with the Brooklyn Nets looms large, thrusting a large spotlight on Evan Fournier and Marcus Smart.
With the win, Boston is now the 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, and it set for a first round bout with the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have a ton of firepower with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden all set for action. The Celtics will be heavy underdogs for the series, and rightfully so. Tatum and Walker will have to continue to play like they did last night against the Wizards, and somebody else will have to step up if Boston even wants to have a shot in this series. If that doesn’t happen, this could make for a very quick series.