WASHINGTON — If only the Washington Wizards could match up against teams the caliber of the Boston Celtics all the time without their top four scorers, then they might be a championship contender in 2020.
That is a stretch at the very least, for sure, but, in a span of eight days, the Wizards — the team with the fourth-fewest wins in the Eastern Conference — have caught the league’s attention with their Goliath-slaying style of play. Oh, and they may have found themselves a hidden gem in a 31-year-old journeyman who continues to play like the franchise point guard the Wizards have had the luxury of having for almost a decade.
On Monday, Smith scored 17 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter on his way to singlehandedly producing the game-winning stretch run that lifted the Wizards to a 99-94 victory over the Boston Celtics at Capital One Arena.
Washington is a modest 3-2 in its last five games, but the wins, all at home, have come against Miami, Denver and now the Celtics, teams with a combined record of 75-29 going into Monday.
The Wizards never trailed in the game, but a Jaylen Brown three-pointer for Boston tied the score at 80-80 with eight minutes remaining. From there, Smith took over with his dribbling wizardry and mid-range jumpers, scoring the game’s next eight points, with three of his baskets coming on well-contested mid-range shots from the middle of the floor.
Smith scored 11 points in the row for the Wizards overall during that stretch, and when Smith went to the free throw line towards the end of the game, Wizards fans serenaded him with an “M-V-P!” chant!
Guess it takes playing with with legitimate MVP candidates for the Wizards to play at their best this season, especially after Smith’s 32 points led Washington over the Nuggets just two days ago.
“If it was a two-game season, I would have to agree with the crowd: MVP,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks. “And he’s bringing back the mid-range. He’s hard to stay in front of. His change of direction. His pace. The speed.”
Brooks’ comments about Smith ring similar to those he once said regularly about John Wall, who is still recovering from his Achilles tear last year. Wall’s All-Star backcourt mate, Bradley Beal, missed another game tonight due to leg soreness and was joined on the absentee list by forward Davis Bertans (quad), rookie forward Rui Hachimura (groin) and center Thomas Bryant (foot).
Reserve guard Troy Brown Jr., who also has stepped up for Washington in the absence of their stars, had 15 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Jordan McRae had 19 and Isaiah Thomas had 17 points in 23 minutes against his former team.
“Sometimes, we don’t have a lot of scoring options out there, but I can honestly say we have a lot of effort options out there, and that’s a good thing to have,” Brooks said.
Boston came into the game winners of eight of its past nine, but they were missing their All-Star guard, Kemba Walker, who is continuing to recover from an illness. Brown had 23 points and 12 rebounds, but shot just 7-for-22. No Celtics starter shot over 40 percent from the field, with Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward going a combined 7-for-25. Jayson Tatum scored 17 on 8-of-20 shooting.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Monday evening’s game, with all photos taken by DC-area photographers Yusuf Abdullah and Rodney Pierce. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 14 pictures in total.