WASHINGTON — It was a game that was supposed to be more fitting of a burial, at least according to the players hosting the proceedings. Instead, the Washington Wizards turned tonight’s game vs. the Boston Celtics into a near three-hour procession more fitting of Mardi Gras.
The Wizards, who have made no secret of their acrimony they possess towards the Celtics, made good on their promise to wear all black when arriving for the game, building up the hype for the contest even more. More importantly, Washington backed up its bluster, with John Wall and Bradley Beal scoring a combined 58 points, both seemingly unstoppable in their playmaking in the second half. The Wizards scored a season high 123 points in a 123-108 triumph over the Celtics, Washington’s six win in its last seven games.
The last time these two teams played, on Jan. 11, Wall and Celtics forward Jae Crowder got into a scuffle that caused the players to be separated and them both of them receiving fines from the league. Last season, Boston guard Marcus Smart hit Beal in the face, resulting in a broken nose and a concussion. Those flashpoints, along with the close proximity of these teams in geographic location and near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, made this one of the most anticipated games of the NBA season so far.
“The hype around the game was probably bigger than normal,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks in the postgame press conference. “It wasn’t more so in the locker room. We were focused on scouting them like we always do, and we felt that we made some mistakes down the stretch the last time we played them that we wanted to correct. I thought a lot of guys stepped up and played well.”
Beal in particular stood out in closing the game for the Wizards, scoring 13 fourth-quarter points – including 11 of those in a span of 3:30 towards the end of the stanza to send the Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy. From jump shots to a finger roll to one soaring dunk, Beal put the punctuation mark on a game he had been looking forward to for a couple of weeks. He also admitted that he put a little pressure on himself and the team with his declaration to have his team wear all black arriving to the arena.
“Yeah, it was a team thing,” said Beal. “We just wanted to have fun, man. That is all we were doing. It was nothing personal. Of course it was subliminal, but we were just having fun at the end of the day.”
Beal added, “Like I said before, we knew what this game was. We all had it circled after the last time we played them. Both teams. It was a competitive game, but I am glad we were able to dominate.”
Dominate the Wizards did, as they shot 14-of-19 in the first quarter on their way to a win in which it never trailed during the contest. The win extended Washington’s home winning streak to 14, its longest such streak since 1989, and marks the 22nd win in its last 33 games after starting the season 3-9.
“When we were going through tough times – and we’re playing well now – we never threw [anybody] under the bus,” said Wall, who finished the game with 27 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. “We just tried to keep each other up, and looked ourselves in the face and see what we could do better to help our team win. Everybody’s doing that as a group and individually, and we’re playing team defense and that’s what’s helping.”
That team defense was on display in the fourth quarter tonight, as Boston’s All-Star guard, Isaiah Thomas, was held in check in the fourth quarter despite having a good game overall. Though the NBA’s second-leading scorer had 23 points, he was held to just four points on 1-of-7 shooting the fourth quarter. Thomas came into the game averaging the second-most points per game in the fourth quarter, but the defense of Wall, Beal, and 6-foot-7 Kelly Oubre, Jr. – a whole 10 inches taller than Thomas – made the difference in not allowing Thomas to go off in the final stanza like he did at TD Garden on Jan. 11, when he scored 38 overall.
“They were doing a great job defensively but, you know, he’s going to have moments like that.” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who also lamented the his team’s porous defense after the game. “Again, we can’t expect to come in here and give up 120+ points and we’ve got some things that we’re just going to have to try to make up for defensively with grit and toughness and being able to get in the ball and we haven’t been consistent in playing that way on that end of the floor.”
During the fourth quarter, Smart was seen having a verbal row with some of the assistant coaches on the Celtics bench as the Wizards were pulling away.
“Yeah, he just wanted to go back in,” said Stevens. “He had played 12 minutes so he wasn’t able to go back in and he wanted to go back in.”
After tonight’s marquee matchup, Boston has less than 24 hours to gear up to face another of the NBA’s best, the 34-14 Houston Rockets. For Washington, this was its only home game in a stretch of playing five of six on the road. The Wizards head to Atlanta on Friday.