6:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Wizards -4.5, Over/Under: 216
Let’s play the feud!!! Seriously, there must be something in the air as the tension between teams from the Massachusetts and Baltimore/DC areas seems to be getting thicker by the day. First the Red Sox and Orioles engage in an ugly war at Camden Yards, and now the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards continue to combat each other in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, with a pivotal Game Four tonight from Verizon Center serving as the battleground. If you’re a fan of 90’s Playoff Basketball, then these teams have you covered, as the physicality has been cranked up to a hard ten, with this Series totaling eight Technical Fouls, three Ejections, and now one Suspension. Look no further than Celtics (53-29, 1st in Eastern Conference) star Point Guard Isaiah Thomas (28.9 PTS, 46.3% FG, 37.9% 3FG, 2.7 REB, 5.9 AST, 0.9 STL), who actually lost his tooth midway through Game One after taking a flailing elbow to the face while fighting through a pick, only to undergo extensive dental surgery the following day before exploding for fifty-three points in Boston’s 129-119 Overtime victory in Game Two. However, the diminutive dynamo wasn’t nearly as productive in Game Three, scoring just thirteen points on 3-of-8 shooting (37.5%), with over half of his total (seven) coming from the Free-Throw Line. With a reported six-hour surgery (which he had to have readjusted at Halftime) following the funeral services for his departed younger sister, it’s completely understandable that he would come out so flat, but then again, nobody from the visiting side really managed to make an impression either; as a whole, the Celtics were rather dreadful in Game Three’s 116-89 hammering in the Nation’s Capital, shooting a miserable 35.1% from the field, while getting absolutely humbled in the Paint (Minus-28) and in Transition (Minus-8). Brad Stevens’ charges looked lethargic from the jump, falling behind 39-17 in the First Quarter, which is becoming quite a theme for them in this Series, but unlike the previous two affairs in Boston, they were completely unable to climb back into the contest, as they were outscored 77-72 the rest of the way. Overcoming slow starts has been kind of their thing in this Series, for in Game One they fell behind 16-0 to kick things off before trailing 38-24 by the end of the first frame, and in Game Two trailed 42-29 after the first twelve minutes of play. With that said, they put forth furious rallies in both outings, besting the Wizards 126-89 throughout the Second and Third Quarters alone. The key for Stevens’ troops has been their depth, which has really stood in contrast to that of their counterpart; Boston has had ten players logging at least ten minutes per game, with a second wave all sixteen minutes or more as the Coaching Staff has constantly shifted between lineups in an attempt to take advantage of mismatches. One of the most effective has featured typical Swingman Gerald Green (5.6 PTS, 40.9% FG, 35.1% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 0.7 AST) in a more Frontcourt role, which has forced Washington’s bigs away from the Paint, as Al Horford (14.0 PTS, 47.3% FG, 35.5% 3FG, 6.8 REB, 5.0 AST, 0.8 STL, 1.3 BLK) operates as a distributor from the top of the Key or Elbow. Spacing improves dramatically in this case, for the Celtics now have a wealth of shooters on the floor, allowing them to snipe away from the perimeter; the denizens of Beantown have knocked down fourteen more three-pointers than the Wizards thus far, while shooting at a much higher percentage (39.3%). Look for Stevens and Co. to continue to utilize the entirety of his rotation, particularly given how shorthanded their opponent figures to be tonight (which we’ll get into shortly).
Meanwhile, after watching the first three games of this Series, one could make a very good case that the Wizards (49-33, 4th in Eastern Conference) should have a commanding 3-0 lead. However, their inability to maintain sizable leads, particularly in the first two games, explains why they are currently in the predicament that they find themselves in. As we stated earlier, they have shown the ability to completely overwhelm the Celtics at times, racing out to a sixteen-point lead in the First Quarter of Game One, and totaling a staggering forty-two points in the first stanza of Game Two, which is to say nothing about their 126-89 spanking of their counterparts in Game Three. Finishing Boston off has been a real issue though, for as good as Washington has appeared at times, they’ve shown disturbing lapses of ineptitude during others. So what’s the problem for Scott Brooks’ charges, you ask? Well, it certainly hasn’t been John Wall (23.1 PTS, 45.1% FG, 32.7% 3FG, 4.2 REB, 10.7 AST, 2.0 STL), who has taken his game to another level in the Postseason; the four-time All-Star has averaged 28.0 points, 12.3 assists, 2.3 steals, and 2.0 blocks in this Series, oftentimes toying with defenders before eviscerating them in transition. He has twenty-four points in Game Three, helping fuel an opening salvo that included twenty-two unanswered points in the first frame to stretch the lead to 34-12The Supporting Cast on the other hand, has been a different story altogether. Dead-eye marksman Bradley Beal (23.1 PTS, 48.2% FG, 40.4% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 3.5 AST, 1.1 STL) has averaged 17.3 points, but has been far from efficient on 37.0% shooting, while Marcin Gortat (10.8 PTS, 57.9% FG, 10.4 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.8 BLK) continues to struggle to find his place against Boston’s smaller lineups. Delving deeper into the rotation only reveals more issues, for Markieff Morris (14.0 PTS, 45.7% FG, 36.2% 3FG, 6.5 REB, 1.7 AST, 1.1 STL) has lumbered through the first three games with a bulky ankle, while key midseason acquisition Bojan Bogdanovic (12.7 PTS, 45.7% FG, 39.1% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 0.8 AST) finally showed up in Game Three with nineteen points on 6-of-12 shooting, despite largely proving ineffective throughout the Playoffs. Compounding matters is the loss of Kelly Oubre Jr. (6.3 PTS, 43.1% FG, 3.3 REB), who is suspended for tonight’s contest after shoving Boston’s Kelly Olynyk to the ground in retaliation to the latter setting a hard pick midway through the Third Quarter. Oubre had averaged 8.7 points on 52.4% shooting thus far, with his absence only making one of the league’s thinnest Benches all the more shallow. Brooks’ reliance on the Starting Five has had an adverse effect on his team’s defense, as they visibly ran out of gas down the stretch in both Games One and Two. However, that wasn’t the case during Thursday Night’s victory; with the Series shifting to Washington, the hosts relegated Boston to dismal 35.1% shooting, while forcing sixteen turnovers and outrebounding them twelve boards. Brooks made it a point to take the fight to the visiting side, particularly Thomas, whom they tried to physically wear down with bigger players in post-up situations. Given, the Guards small stature (5′-9″) it’s a wonder that the Wizards didn’t try this approach earlier, but it does bear watching as the Series continues to progress forward.