– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
BOSTON — Once again, the Boston Celtics found themselves in the middle of a slump and, once again, members of the team pointed out that what was needed was a little bit more fun in their play. The laughs were present on Friday night for Boston as it dealt with the serious nature of stopping one of its longest slides in the Brad Stevens era.
Seven players scored in double figures for Boston, led by Marcus Morris’ 17 points, as the Celtics defeated the Washington Wizards 107-96 at TD Garden to stop a four-game losing streak. Marcus Smart had 16 points, including hitting all four of his three-point attempts as Boston led for almost the entirety of the contest.
“Tonight was fin for everybody. You could see that,” Smart said. “Tonight, the ball was popping. It was moving. We made the right play.”
As much as Smart liked his team’s effort on offense, it was on the defensive end where Boston made hay, collecting 12 steals and forcing 18 Wizards turnovers overall. Those 18 takeaways led to 24 Celtics points.
“[Our defense] was outstanding for us,” Smart said. “We needed it. We needed to get back to this. Making guys really shaky with the ball, questioning bringing the ball up against us and really just imposing our will. We did that tonight. That helped us a lot and we need to continue that.”
The game was tight, with Boston taking a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter, before it forced seven turnovers in the final frame, outscoring Washington 25-15. Reserves Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward were the difference makers in the final 12 minutes, with Brown going for 11 points in the frame. Both players were a plus-10 on the floor in the quarter as the Celtics pulled away.
“[Jaylen] was really good,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “He was really tough. He was into the ball. Didn’t have a great shooting night, as a lot of us didn’t have a great shooting night, but I thought for the most part really played with great – you know, great purpose and I thought really took the challenge of guarding Bradley Beal in the fourth quarter and did a good job on him.”
Beal led all scorers with 29 points for the Wizards to go along with 11 rebounds and six assists. Beal scored 11 of his points in the third when the Wizards pulled within one, but he also committed back-to-back turnovers midway through the fourth quarter that both led to Celtics baskets by Terry Rozier and a 97-88 Boston lead with just under seven minutes remaining. Washington would get no closer to the Celtics for the rest of the contest.
“I definitely put in on my shoulders tonight,” Beal said. “I checked back in, I turned the ball over twice. That just shifted the whole momentum of the game from the rest of the point on. Just got to take care of the ball.”