Celtics-Wizards Game 6 Preview
Exec Summary: Celtics have found the right adjustments to clamp down on the Wizards in crunch time giving them the chance to comeback from whatever lead Wall and Co. can build through three quarters. Capping a 117–109 Celtics win, not going to be worried about 10-ish point Wiz lead until about 4 minutes left.
The last series of the conference semifinals potentially ends tonight as the Celtics try to put the Wizards to bed in DC. Boston come into the game with a relatively healthy squad, a good handle on their rotations and has identified clear mismatches on offense and defense which they were able to exploit at will in Game 5. Many look at the lopsided results in this series to-date and see home team domination (Game 2 excepted, despite the Cs win and cover). But digging deeper, the difference from game-to-game, besides the venue, has been the health and effectiveness of Avery Bradley. In a team as deep as the Celtics and with a bright shinning star on offense in IT4, it’s easy to miss the importance Bradley has meant to the team’s success this season, particularly on the defensive end. When healthy this series, Bradley had limited the effectiveness of Wall impressively and as a topper, provided the offensive spark in Game 5 to put the Wiz out of their misery early in the game. Reports suggest AB is still dealing with two hip pointers but based on his Game 5 performance we should expect to see him get heavy crunch time minutes and play a pivotal role for the Cs tonight in this potential close-out game.
The Wizards starting five is more talented and has performed more effectively on paper this series, however, subtle adjustments in Boston’s defensive approach made a huge impact on their offensive efficiency in Game 5. Bradley Beal has struggled to get into a rhythm this series, Gortat is a minus on defense at least as much as he is a plus on offense and while Otto Porter Jr and Markieff (Marcus?) Morris are nice pieces, their roles have been minimized down the stretch in important minutes which is a troubling sign for the Wizards who will need every point they can muster tonight because their defensive liabilities are a disaster. I was high on the Wizards heading into this series (holding Wiz to advance ticket even) but their perimeter defense and extremely poor bench play have prevented them from seizing a 3–2 lead which they desperately needed if they were to advance.
Last note on the Wizards, as mentioned above, John Wall has a problem and his name is Avery Bradley. Wall has shown flashes of brilliance this playoffs and his status as a top point guard in the Association is unquestioned, however, the dimensions of his game on offense are limited by so-so three-point shooting and an inability to create his own shot vs Bradley. As a topper, the Wizards awful bench and Beal’s inability to carry the load while Wall rests have put him in a situation where he’s on weak legs at the end of games. In the OT minutes of Game 2, Wall was unable to drive effectively or hit his jumpers because he played practically 48 minutes of high intensity basketball in regulation. If a Scotty Brooks team having rotation issues sound familiar it should! Year after year in OKC Brooks faced this same problem and never found a way to get his superstar players in top form at the end of games without relinquishing back-breaking runs during the course of the game.
On the other side of things, the Cs can flat out score. They are shooting near historic numbers of 3s this postseason and while it is unequivocally true that they shoot/score much better in the Garden (with those oh-so-soft rims), this is now their third game at Verizon and it would be a surprise if the their shot chart looks as gross as it did in Games 3 and 4. Combine some familiarity with the venue and the same old lousy perimeter defense from the Wizards and the Celtics TT looks about 10 points too low tonight.
The flow of this game will be interesting to keep an eye on in the 1st half. Keys to watch will be: Boston’s ability to drain open 3s (contingent on having guys like Crowder and Bradley set their feet); the defensive intensity the Celtics bring out of the gate; the Wizards response to the pressure of a close-out game; the scoring margin when the Wizards rotate out and then back in their starters; the minutes John Wall plays in the 1H; and the adjustments Brooks made between Games 5 and 6. Will not be surprise to see Wizards secure a small lead at the end of the 1Q, and expecting a wide open high scoring 2Q. The Wizards will likely try to replicate their success out of HT that secured Game 4 for them and any lead in the range of 10 points to start the 4th is a reasonable target margin that the Celtics should aim to stay within. Expecting a 4th quarter that is dominated by Boston, crowd gets tight (the people of DC have been through A LOT this week) the Wizards get choke-y and the Celtics close the gap and pull away before you know it.
Three pre-game plays tonight:
BOS +4½ +100
BOS ML +180
BOS o216½ +103