– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
WASHINGTON — The Boston Celtics rolled into the nation’s capital wearing all black, somewhat resembling desperados from a country western movie. They were here to be the bad guys, the ones who ravage through town mercilessly and leave its citizens feeling despair and woe. Boston came here to take, what I’m sure they think, is rightfully theirs: a ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals.
It almost paid off. But, like in the movies, the men in white saved the day – and just in the nick of time.
Donning the home white uniforms, the Washington Wizards staved off elimination from the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 92-91 victory over the Celtics in Game 6, with the team’s biggest star, John Wall, draining a three-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining to save the Washington’s season. His heroics now set up a do-or-die Game 7 at TD Garden in Boston on Monday night.
Fitting of the silver screen, the last two minutes of the game played out like a shootout at the OK Corral. Boston’s dead-eye shooter, Isaiah Thomas, hit a tough fallaway and a three-pointer on consecutive possessions for an 87-82 lead with 1:34 remaining, and after an offensive foul on Wall on the ensuing possession, it looked like the Wizards’ unbeaten run at home – and its 2016-17 season – would come to an end.
Wall, who was 1-for-9 shooting in the first half, and Beal, who hadn’t hit a three-pointer for the first 47 minutes, came to life at just the right moment. A Wizards’ trap at half court of Thomas forced a turnover, with Beal sinking a fast break three to cut the lead to two. Wall, after a defensive stand by the Wizards, drew a foul and hit two free throws to tie the game at 87 with 41.2 seconds left.
After that, it was an old-fashioned shootout. The first shot: Avery Bradley’s deep jumper from the corner off the inbounds gave Boston the lead again.
Beal fired the next salvo, hitting a driving layup off the glass to tie the game again. Only 28.7 seconds remained.
Boston, arguably the best team at drawing up plays in “after time out” situations, loaded another bullet in the chamber. Thomas and Al Horford executed a pick-and-pop, with Horford banking in a baseline jumper with 7.7 seconds remaining for a 91-89 lead.
Did Washington have one bullet left to fire in this shootout? You bet they did.
Wall came up to receive the inbounds pass almost near half court. He took two dribbles towards the basket, then launched from 28 feet on the right wing.
Pow. (Or, should I say, “swish.”)
To hear Wall explain what happened on that last shot was, once again, something that only a screenwriter and Academy Award winning director could come up with.
“The last play was really for me to get to the corner and Brad [Beal] come open,” said Wall, who ended the game with 26 points and eight assists. “He didn’t get the opportunity to get open and I didn’t want to get a five-second violation. So I came and got the ball from Otto [Porter Jr.]) and looked the defender in the eye and took a shot I work on. And it went in.”
Boston had a last chance after that Wall dagger, and with a gunslinger like Thomas, the Celtics had more than just a puncher’s chance. After a non-shooting foul from the Wizards, Thomas took an off-balance three from the left wing that bounced off the glass and rim to end the game. The men in white won.
The men in black before the game were the Celtics, who imitated what the Wizards did in D.C. when these two teams, who have arguably the league’s most acrimonious rivalry, met back on January 24. Washington came to the arena wearing all black uniforms, with word getting out that this was going to be a “funeral game,” where the Wizards would get revenge on the Celtics after a loss earlier that month at TD Garden where both Wall and Celtics forward Jae Crowder got into a heated exchange. The Wizards backed up their sartorial theatrics, blowing out the Celtics 123-108.
Boston, after its Game 5 win on Wednesday, decided that it was their turn to hold funeral proceedings, with all the members of the team arriving with all black clothing. In a break from the norm, all of the players decided to wear black socks, too.
It didn’t work. Also, the Wizards found out before the game about the Celtics’ attire and took notice. Was it a motivating factor?
“It was just funny to me,” said Wall. “Talking to family and friends, they see what’s happening on social media. I tried to stay off it as much. They said they were wearing all black, so we knew it was kind of copycatting off what we did. It was in my mind throughout the game that I didn’t want them to come here, wear all black and basically call it a funeral and lose at home.”
Boston, to either their credit or to their tone deafness, played off the ploy before game, with many calling it just a coincidence. After the game, a few players, notably Jae Crowder, fessed up to the intent of the attire, even if others just wanted to move on from it. Thomas, specifically, wouldn’t have had it any other way if he had a chance to do it over.
“Second thoughts, no,” said Thomas, who ended the game with 27 points. “I wear black all the time. I’m the first one in this gym, too, so I didn’t see nobody else wearing black.”
Sure, Isaiah. But, at the very least, we have a Game 7 between these two teams who want to be – and one will be – present at the other team’s funeral, personally being responsible for laying the season to rest. Boston will now have the chance to wear white, play the role of the good guys and drive away the dark-clad Wizards from entering their town and spoiling the fun for the citizens of the town of Boston.
Let the shootout at the TD Garden Corral begin!