WASHINGTON — Going into Tuesday’s contest against a team it might very well face off against at least four more times over the next two weeks, there was so much uncertainty involving the Washington Wizards, from their recent sluggish form and whether they can play themselves out of it in time for the playoffs, to which team it would actually match up against in the postseason. What Washington made certain of tonight is to make sure its horrible form is one step closer to being in the rearview mirror for good.
Point guard John Wall, continuing to round himself into form and good health after recently coming back into the lineup from knee surgery, paced Washington with 29 points as the Wizards took out the shorthanded Boston Celtics 113-101 at Capital One Arena in the final home game of the season. At 43-38, Washington currently is tied for the No. 7 position in the Eastern Conference with the Miami Heat, though Miami holds the tiebreaker against the Wizards. The Wizards can finish anywhere between sixth and eighth in the conference depending on results in tomorrow’s games, including their own contest against in Orlando against the Magic to end the season tomorrow night.
Losses in 13 of their last 19 games, including defeats to conference cellar dwellers New York, Chicago, and, most recently, a home defeat against Atlanta last Friday night, officially put the Wizards in crisis mode, but, at least for 48 minutes, they were able to stop the bleeding. Along with his 29 points, Wall also had 12 assists, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks. His backcourt mate, Bradley Beal, ended with 19 points.
“I wanted to make sure that we play the right way. You look at the big picture, we’ve struggled these past 10 days or so, but prior to that, the story to me was we battled and fought and put ourselves into playoff position,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks. “We have a chance to be the six seed, and we did it [with] John [Wall] missing half the season. For some strange reason, we didn’t finish the job. These last 10, 12 games, we’ve been up and down. We’ve let go of the rope a little bit.”
After an see-saw first half which saw the Celtics go into halftime up by two (54-52), Washington turned the screws defensively, holding the Celtics to just 18 points on 4-of-21 shooting, including forcing Boston to miss seven of their eight three-point attempts in the frame. The Wizards opened the third quarter on a 13-5 run, with Wall’s three-pointer capping the run and giving Washington a 65-59 advantage at the 6:47 mark.
“We won the game tonight with great effort, great team spirit and that defensive mindset that we need,” Brooks said.
Obviously, it also helped Washington that Boston continues to play with a shorthanded roster, highlighted by the absence of Kyrie Irving, out for the season after surgery to remove screws in his left knee three days ago. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 27 points, including scoring 21 in the first quarter when he made five three-pointers.
After a five-game winning streak, the Celtics, anchored as the No. 2 seed when the NBA Playoffs start this weekend, have lost four of their last five games.
“There has to be a concern,” said Celtics forward Al Horford, who had 10 points and 14 rebounds. “I know it’s the second-to-last game of the season, but we have to be better. That starts with me. Give [Washington] credit, they played better than us tonight.”
Horford may have sounded an alarm bell of some sort, but Brown believes there can be a positive to derive from tonight’s defeat.
“Not concerning at all. Could be motivating,” said Brown, who is averaging 18.4 points per game and shooting 58 percent from three (18-for-31) in his last seven games. “Depends on how we use it. Come back next game, get ready for the playoffs. Hopefully, it opens our eyes a little bit.”
There is a decent chance these two teams will meet to start the NBA Playoffs this weekend, which would be the second season in a row that they would cross paths in the postseason after the Celtics’ triumph over the Wizards in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals in seven games. A Washington win on Wednesday, coupled with a Milwaukee loss on the road against Philadelphia and a Miami victory at home over Toronto would result in a Celtics-Wizards series. The other combination that would lead Boston and Washington to play each other in the first round is a Washington win, Toronto defeating Miami and Milwaukee defeating Philadelphia.
Washington will be the No. 8 seed if it loses tomorrow against the Magic, but can climb as high as the No. 6 seed if Toronto (at Miami) and Philadelphia (vs. Milwaukee) win. That would lead to the Wizards taking on the Sixers in a 3-6 matchup.