BOSTON — Although the team that had vanquished the Washington Wizards in last year’s NBA Playoffs underwent a near-complete overhaul in the offseason, the feeling of pain and disappointment from the last time they played a game at TD Garden helped Washington over the finish line on a special basketball occasion in Beantown.
Bradley Beal led all scorers with 25 points while the play of backcourt mate John Wall was instrumental during a decisive 12-0 run late in the fourth quarter as the Wizards defeated the Boston Celtics 111-103 on Christmas Day, the first-ever game the Celtics have played in Boston on the holiday after 30 prior Christmas Day contests in franchise history.
Playing on the Christmas Day stage already made this contest a marquee event, but Washington (19-15) knew what coming into TD Garden on this day also meant; It was the first game in Boston for the team since it blew a fourth-quarter lead in Game 7 of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, allowing the Celtics to advance to the conference finals while the Wizards had to live with the “what if” feeling throughout the offseason. Washington’s offseason was rather uneventful in terms of roster moves, Boston underwent a facelift; Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and first-round pick Jayson Tatum were notable additions while gone were the likes of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk.
In told, only four players from last year’s Celtics team – Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier – are on Boston’s roster now, but that barely diminished the emotions in playing against the team and in front of the raucous Celtics fans that helped crush their preseason aspirations of making it into the Eastern Conference Finals.
“We know it’s a lot of new faces, but, at the end of the day, Celtic Green is what knocked us out last year and we still have that feeling in the back of our head and we definitely had it tonight,” Beal said after the game. “It was definitely one of the points [Coach Brooks] emphasized coming into this evening. We kept this in our hearts and we came out and competed.”
The compete level was most evident in the final stages of the game, especially after Irving hit a three-pointer with 6:18 remaining to give the Celtics, down for the majority of the contest, their biggest lead at 95-90. Wall then hit a tough step-back jumper over Irving on the following possession, with that shot starting a Wizards 12-0 run. Kelly Oubre Jr. then scored five consecutive points, including a three-pointer from the right corner that ended up giving the lead for good at 97-95 at the 5:16 mark of the fourth.
Along with those five points down the stretch, Oubre Jr. also grabbed two key offensive rebounds, with the second offensive board immediately leading to his assist on a dunk by Markieff Morris for a 108-99 Washington lead with just under 90 seconds remaining.
“I thought we did a great job of attacking all the 50/50 balls,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks after the game. “I thouht we were aggressive, I thought we didn’t let up. We just kept chipping away at that we needed to do. I thought [Markieff] was really, really good. He showed a lot of physicality, he was a big part of our win and Kelly [Oubre Jr.] was the same way. You win games with your other guys stepping up in big moments and I thought those guys were a huge part of our win.”
Boston (27-10), with the best record in the Eastern Conference coming into today’s game, has hit a rut, going just 5-6 now in its last 11 games, and rebounding has been a concern during the subpar run of form. In the fourth quarter alone, the Wizards were able to grab seven offensive rebounds and score 10 second-chance points off of those, tilting the momentum towards Washington after Boston seemed as if it was starting to put a little distance between themselves and the Wizards by the midway point of the fourth.
“Again, I think it’s not only, as you know, it’s not just 10 points,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens after the game. “It’s the idea that you had a stop and then you gave up a basket. You know, you’ve got to finish plays at a better level. You know that’s been a pretty consistent theme with us over the last couple of weeks; we’re not rebounding from the wing the way we did earlier in the year, and against [Washington], you don’t have a margin for error. They’re just too good. And I thought they had their way with us in a lot of ways.”
Irving and Jayson Tatum each scored 20 points to lead the Celtics, as both came to life in the second half as each scored 12 points and both hit their two three-point attempts in the final 24 minutes. The Celtics also received 43 points from their bench, as Terry Rozier (16 points), Daniel Theis (12) and Marcus Smart (10) each scored in double figures.
Washington might have recorded its most impressive victory of the season, but its next game may very well determine if one of their biggest inconsistencies is past them; a road trip to Eastern Conference bottom feeder Atlanta on Wednesday might pose a problem because of the Wizards’ propensity to play down to – and, eventually, lose to – teams with losing records while stepping up to the occasion when playing those toward the top of the NBA standings.
There was no extra motivation needed for the Wizards to be up for the Celtics, and carrying that urgency over from game to game might be the turning point in what has been a season that has had its share of fits and starts going into the new year.
“We had every reason in our mind to play with energy and play with focus the right way,” Beal said. We just got to realize that if we play like this every night, we are going to be capable of winning every game.”