The Boston Celtics visited Verizon Center on Friday dressed for a funeral. But John Wall and the Washington Wizards aren’t dead yet.
The All-Star point guard drained a game-winning pull-up 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left on Friday night to deliver the Wizards a 92-91 win in a do-or-die Game 6 in Washington, D.C. After six hard-fought games full of haymaker runs and physicality, the Celtics and Wizards will play a winner-take-all Game 7 on Monday for the right to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals starting next Wednesday.
The cold-blooded dagger capped a remarkable in-game turnaround for Wall. Eager to make amends after Washington’s dismal performance in a Game 5 blowout, the Wizards star came out of the gate with his foot on the gas, racing at the rim 100 miles per hour seemingly every time he touched the ball. Unfortunately, many of those drives produced contested shots in the teeth of the Celtics’ defense, resulting in misses, which led to transition opportunities on which Boston capitalized a ton, registering 17 fast-break points to Washington’s eight.
But after entering intermission with just three points on 1-for-9 shooting and failing to notch an assist in the second quarter, Wall came alive in the third, scoring 13 points in the period to help keep the Wizards within three, 69-66, heading into the fourth quarter. Then, he teamed with shooting guard Bradley Beal — Washington’s primary offensive weapon all night, in his best performance of the playoffs — to score or assist on all 26 Wizards points in the final frame. That includes the game-winner, which, according to ESPN Stats and Information, was “the first game-tying or go-ahead 3-point field goal in the final 10 seconds of an elimination game since Ray Allen against the Spurs in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals for the Heat.”
Wizards won their first home elimination game since 1997, breaking a streak of 7 straight, which was the longest such streak in NBA history
— Brody Logan (@BrodyLogan) May 13, 2017
Beal finished with a game- and playoff-career-high 33 points on 15-for-26 shooting with five assists in 43 minutes. After missing 11 of his first 12 shots, Wall wound up with 26 points on 9-for-25 shooting, eight assists, two rebounds and two blocks in 42 minutes of work.
Power forward Markieff Morris battled all night, chipping in 16 points, including a big 3 from the left corner to give Washington an 82-80 lead with 3:45 left in the fourth. He also pulled down 11 rebounds with two assists, a steal and a block in 39 1/2 minutes that the Wizards absolutely had to have, with top centers Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi both spending much of the game battling foul trouble.
Boston guard Avery Bradley carried over his strong play from Game 5, scoring 27 points on 10-for-18 shooting with four steals, three rebounds and an assist. Ditto for center Al Horford, who added 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting with six boards, three dimes, a block and great back-line defense in his 37 minutes.
As has been the case since his 53-point explosion in Game 2, Thomas struggled to find consistency on his shot, going 8-for-24 from the floor. But he made plays for others, got to the foul line and was nails late, scoring 10 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter to put Boston within striking distance of scoring the first road victory of the season series between these two teams.
Washington trailed by five, 87-82, after Thomas knocked down back-to-back shots — an 18-foot stepback along the baseline over the outstretched arm of Morris, and a 25-foot pull-up bomb after a Wall miss — with 1:34 remaining. And after a lengthy replay review determined that Marcus Smart had stationed himself in front of a driving Wall in time to earn a charging call rather than commit a blocking foul, the Celtics had the ball and a five-point lead with 1:24 to go. The Wizards had one last kick in them, though.
The Wizards aggressively swarmed Thomas one dribble past half-court, with both Wall and Morris tracking him as he dribbled from the right side of the floor to the left. With 16 seconds still left on the shot clock, Thomas picked up his dribble and tried to throw a pass; the ball fell to ground with no Celtic near it, and bounced right into the hands of Gortat, who quickly redirected to Beal.
Beal, who had shot brilliantly inside the 3-point arc on Friday but continued his postseason-long struggles beyond, dribbled it up the court, then stepped behind a Gortat screen on Bradley to rise up and knock down his first 3 of the game with 1:09 to go to get the Wiz back within two.
“They went all out and trapped me,” Thomas said during his post-game press conference. “I mean, I had nowhere to go. I’ve got to be better in that situation. They did a really good job of doing that. They trapped me. They took away the next pass, as well. They hadn’t really been doing that all game, and we weren’t alert. Well, I wasn’t alert, as well. So that’s definitely on me.”
Next, Wall made his presence felt. First, he used his length and quickness to hound Thomas and block his shot with 47 seconds left. Then, he raced out in transition, pedal-to-the-metal, and drawing a foul at the rim that gave him two free throws. He hit both to tie it up at 87.
After four quarters marked mostly by offensive inefficiency and struggling shooting — entering the final 90 seconds, Boston was shooting 40 percent from the floor and Washington 41 percent, with the Wiz just 3-for-22 from long distance — down the stretch, with a conference finals berth on the line, suddenly nobody could miss.
Coming out of a Celtics timeout, Boston’s Bradley splashed a baseline jumper for an 89-87 lead with 39 ticks left. Rather than calling timeout to set up, though, Wizards coach Scott Brooks let his team go, resulting in the diminutive Thomas guarding Beal, who charged to the rim for a short runner that banked off glass and through for an 89-all tie. Moreover, Celtics defender Bradley didn’t pressure the ball on Washington’s inbounds play, allowing Wall to “walk the dog” — let the ball roll before making contact with it to start the game clock — to preserve some precious seconds that meant, after Beal’s bucket with 28.7 seconds left, the Wizards would still have a 2-for-1 opportunity to answer in the event the Celtics scored.
#Celtics treated that WSH possession with Beal tying bucket like they were ahead two possessions, not one. No ball pressure.
— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) May 13, 2017
Again, Brad Stevens called timeout; again, the Celtics executed. Thomas and Horford ran a side pick-and-roll that allowed the point guard to get into the middle of the floor, draw two defenders, and kick out to Horford, who had popped free along the baseline:
I’m not so sure he intended to put his jumper high off the glass, but whether he called bank or not, it went down, giving the Celtics a 91-89 edge and forcing a Washington timeout with 7.7 ticks left.
Imagine having your season end on that bank.
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) May 13, 2017
The Celtics did a good job of gumming up what looked to be the Wizards’ intended first option coming out of the timeout, with Smart smothering Beal away from the ball as he tried to spring free above the 3-point arc. But Wall slid up along the sideline right next to inbounder Otto Porter, took the handoff, squared up against the defense of Bradley, pulled up in rhythm and straight-up dotted the eye of one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.
"I cannot imagine that," says John Wall. https://t.co/BjgKOsu3Pf
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) May 13, 2017
“I didn’t want to get a five-second violation, so I came and got the ball from Otto,” Wall said after the game. “Looked the defender in the eye and took a shot I work on, and it went in.”
“We had our best on-ball defender on their All-Star,” Stevens said, according to Lang Whitaker of NBA.com. “We’re going to guard it as hard as we can and shake his hand and move on.”
The Celtics had a chance to answer after another timeout, but their first crack at an inbounds play — a lob over the top to Kelly Olynyk at the rim — was scuttled by Olynyk’s old pal, Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who fouled the Boston big man at the basket. The Wizards had a foul to give, though, and by the time the refs had stopped the clock, the Celtics had burned half of the 3.5 seconds they had left, and had to inbound again.
They got it in to Thomas, but his attempt at a buzzer-beating answer came up short:
“I thought it was going in,” Thomas told reporters after the game. “Honestly, I did.”
The Wizards held on, keeping this series on serve with each team winning three games on its home court, and sending it back to Boston for the right to take on LeBron.
Wall, as you might expect, was stoked after hitting the game-winner to extend the Wizards’ season …
… in part because he appreciated the opportunity to stick it to the style-biting Celtics in what has been the most hotly contested series of the 2017 postseason.
“I ain’t going home,” Wall told ESPN’s Lisa Salters. “Don’t come to my city wearing all black, talking about, ‘It’s a funeral.’ We’ve worked too hard for this. And all we ask for is a Game 7, 50-50, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Thanks to huge performances from their star backcourt, the Wizards and their fans got what they were asking for.
“The NBA world wanted to see it,” Wall said after the game. “Both teams wanted to see it. It’s only right.”
“That’s where all the great players make their name,” Thomas said. “That’s, I guess, where legends are born.”
Game 7 tips off Monday night in Boston at 8 p.m. ET. Make sure you’re dressed for the occasion.
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