Celtics mental toughness on display after series opening win against Washington

The Boston Celtics have traveled quite the tumultuous path this past week. Last Sunday, they handled the Bulls in Chicago to tie up their first-round series at two apiece after dropping the first two games in Boston.

The Celtics would go on to dismantle the Bulls in the fourth quarter of game five to win by 11. In game six, Boston took a 13 point lead into halftime before dispatching Chicago by a score of 51-42 in the second half. All in all, the Celtics would win 105-83 to clinch their first playoff series win under the tutelage of head coach Brad Stevens. The majority of the roster also got a chance to taste their first playoff series win of their respective careers.

Isaiah Thomas made a trip home prior to the beginning of Boston’s second-round series against the Washington Wizards to lay his sister to rest. He arrived in Boston around 4 a.m. after a highly emotional weekend. As expected, Thomas seemed emotional pregame but was excellent from start to finish in game one.

“I’ve just been in continual amazement the last couple of weeks with his ability to function and excel on the basketball court,” said Stevens on how Thomas has been able to handle himself despite the tragedy. “And today is just another chapter of that.”

Washington got off to a fast start and took advantage of Boston’s subpar rebounding early. They jumped out to a 16-0 lead and held the Celtics without a rebound for the opening 6:32 of the game. Thomas finally broke the lid on the basket when he was fouled on a three-point attempt while coming off a screen. His three made free throws made the score 16-3 with 8:03 remaining in the opening quarter. The Celtics early struggles instantly brought reminiscents from the series against Chicago. Boston would go on to trail at halftime in games one and two against the Bulls, before eventually dropping both and falling behind 2-0. Early on, it looked like Boston might mirror that performance.

They would start 0-8 from the field before a layup by Avery Bradley that made the score 20-5. The Celtics’ would end up 8-21 from the field with only three players scoring in quarter number one. Isaiah Thomas was hot from deep early. He connected on three triples in the first 12 minutes. Kelly Olynyk provided an instant impact on offense off the bench as he scored 10 points during his first stint on the court. Olynyk did struggle defensively as he’s just not quick enough laterally to keep up with most of the Wizards bigs, not to mention quick athletes like John Wall and Bradley Beal.

In the second quarter, the Celtics were more balanced offensively. Seven players would score and Boston would finish 12-22. The C’s defense was also more active as they held the Wizards to 10-24 shooting in the quarter and outscored Washington 35-26 to cut the deficit to 64-59 at the break. Thomas paced the Celtics with 19 points, 4 assists and 1 lost tooth over the first 24 minutes.

Sensing the opportunity in front of them, Boston provided one of their best quarters of the entire season. After trading baskets for most of the first five minutes of the third quarter, Jae Crowder’s corner triple would give the Celtics their first lead of the game at 73-71 with 6:54 to play in the quarter. After Crowder’s go-ahead bucket, the C’s would close the quarter on a 22-5 run and never would trail again. Thomas would record 12 more points in the third quarter while Crowder scored 11 of his own. Crowder knocked down 3 of 4 of his triples attempted during the quarter. Al Horford also came through and put together a line of 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. The Celtics efficiency on both sides of the court was on full display, as was their potential when they’re clicking on all cylinders. Boston would shoot 15-27 during the third quarter while also connecting on six three-pointers. Defensively, they limited Washington to 7-19 shooting en route to outscoring them 36-16.

The Wizards didn’t let up, and used a 17-5 run to start the fourth quarter to trim the deficit to 101-98 with 6:39 to play on Bojan Bogdanovic’s jumper. Boston responded with three-pointers from Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Jae Crowder to go back up 112-105. Washington couldn’t answer strong enough and Bradley effectively ended this one with a deep three-pointer as the shot clock buzzer sounded with 2:06 left. On the ensuing defensive possession, Bradley would steal the ball from John Wall and feed a streaking Crowder with a bounce pass for a transition layup.

The Celtics’ would finish 11-20 from the field in the final frame. Horford led the way on 4-4 shooting and finished with 9 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in the quarter. Crowder chipped in 7 points while Bradley and Brown each recorded five in the fourth quarter.

Each team was impressive on offense throughout the game, and both had spurts where they were almost unstoppable. The C’s finished with 32 assists to the Wizards 27 and they were tied at 38 rebounds each. Boston shot 46-90 (51.1%) from the field and tied a playoff franchise record with 19 made triples. In comparison, Washington finished 44-87 (50.6%) from the floor and made 10-23 (43.5%) threes.

Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points and 9 assists over 38.1 minutes. Crowder only averaged 12 points on 40.9% shooting from the field and 27.3% from deep during the series against Chicago but seemed to find his offense again in game one against the Wizards. He finished with a playoff career-high 24 points and six rebounds. Crowder shot an efficient 8-14 (6-8 3PT) over 35.4 minutes. Horford's impact can’t be understated and he’s showing why Boston signed him to a max contract. His balanced effort of 21 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds was the perfect complement to the scoring of the other starters. His ability to open up the offense with his passing is so underrated as a big man and that’s what helps make him so special as a player.

Bradley recorded 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. He shot a mere 7-20 from the field but made timely buckets and was providing a harassing effort on defense the entire time he was on the floor. He did an outstanding job of making Washington’s guards work for every inch of the floor in game one and has been excellent on defense for the entirety of the playoffs thus far. Olynyk sparked the Celtics offense with his early success and helped weather the Wizard storm during the first half so Boston could make a run in the final 24 minutes. You can’t forget about Marcus Smart. He was quiet on the scoreboard but contributed in almost every other facet of the game per usual. Smart would go on to finish with 6 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks.

After responding from a 16 point deficit and countless runs by the Washington Wizards to defeat them by double digits, the Celtics have to continue to work hard on defense to limit the Wizards talented backcourt. On offense, they need to do their best to keep swinging the ball around and getting open shots. Boston is almost unstoppable offensively when the players around Thomas are making shots. They did just that on Sunday afternoon, and they’ll be looking for a quicker start on Tuesday night.


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