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After one half of Sunday’s Game 4, the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards looked headed for a tight, pressure-filled battle befitting the drama and bad blood of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series. The host Wizards overcame an 11-point deficit in the second quarter to tie things up at 48-48 before the break, setting up a crucial second half that would either allow the top-seeded Celtics to take a 3-1 advantage or tie the series at 2-2. With stars Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both performing well, Game 4 had the potential to become another epic duel similar to their historic Game 2.
Then Washington went and turned Game 4 into a blowout. Boston scored the first five points of the third quarter before the Wizards went on an absurd 26-0 run over 6:10 of game time, opening up a substantial lead that turned into a 121-102 victory. However, Game 4’s one-sided finish should only amp up the drama as the teams travel back to Boston for Game 5. These teams don’t like each other, and the return of the suspended Kelly Oubre Jr. for Wednesday’s matchup should ensure that the fans at TD Garden have plenty of motivation to make themselves heard.
It is perhaps not worth analyzing the Wizards’ game-winning run in too much detail. A 26-0 stretch is by definition one-sided — it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the Wizards played really well and the Celtics made many mistakes. The Wizards’ defense pressure — from Otto Porter Jr. John Wall, and a host of others — created big problems for the Celtics and changed the game.
At the very least, the run confirmed that the Celtics struggle when the Wizards get out in transition. That’s largely because of the excellence of Wall, who continued his tremendous postseason with 27 points (8-of-25 FG, 9-of-9 FT), 12 assists, and five steals. Beyond the numbers, though, Wall simply overwhelmed the Celtics with his athleticism and on-the-fly decisions. Few players in the league look so difficult to guard when in motion, and Wall’s creativity can make even the best defense seem inadequate.
However, Wall’s struggles early helped to create a 37-26 advantage for the Celtics with a little under nine minutes remaining in the first half. The Wizards had previously dominated first quarters in this series, but Wall missed his first nine field goals and Washington committed 10 first-half turnovers to change the Celtics’ fortunes early. With Isaiah Thomas starting very hot from long range (17 points on 5-of-6 3FG in the first half), the No. 1 seed looked on its way to an impressive road win.
Not surprisingly, the Wizards improved as Wall began to find his footing. He finished the half by making 5-of-8 shots and began to wreck havoc on the Celtics defense, creating opportunities for Otto Porter Jr. (12 of his 18 points before the break) and others. The third-quarter run obviously decided the game, but the foundation for that dominance was built in the final minutes of the second. Plus, Thomas’s impact waned as Wall’s waxed — the Celtics star attempted only three shots in the second half.
After four games, the dynamics of this series are fairly clear. The Wizards excel when they get out in transition and need Wall to play at a star level. The Celtics need Thomas to play well, too, but their vastly superior depth ensures that they can make up some ground when Wall and Bradley Beal sit. If those guys see more playing time as the series progresses, then Boston will have to create a more halfcourt-oriented game and trust that homecourt advantage makes a difference.
This series is now a best-of-three likely to be won by whichever team executes better. There are no secrets between these squads after the start of this series and four prior regular season matchups. They know they don’t like each other. They know each other’s strengths. Now it’s up to one team to earn a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
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