BOSTON – The start couldn’t have been better for the Wizards in Game 1 of the conference semifinals, but they’re still winless at TD Garden this season and that includes Sunday’s 123-111 loss to the Celtics.
John Wall (20 points, 16 assists) and Bradley Beal (27 points, four assists) got them to a 16-0 start but by halftime Washington’s lead was down to 64-59.
The three-point shooting of the Celtics proved too much to overcome as Isaiah Thomas (33 points, nine assists) and Jae Crowder (24 points) led the effort. As a team, they shot 19-for-39 from long range.
Al Horford (21 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds), Avery Bradley (18 points) and Kelly Olynyk (12 points) provided a strong supporting cast. Game 2 is Tuesday at TD Garden.
What became as large as a 17-point lead in the first quarter for the Wizards turned into a 15-point deficit entering the fourth as they were outdone by eight third-quarter turnovers and never could find their rhythm after losing Markieff Morris to a foot/ankle injury in the first half.
Otto Porter (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Marcin Gortat (16 points, 13 rebounds) did their part for the starters and the bench got an early flurry from Kelly Oubre (12 points) and a late one from Bojan Bogdanovic (10 points).
The Wizards opened the fourth with a run that cut the deficit to 103-99 but the flurry of threes began again from Horford, Jaylen Brown and Crowder to quickly push the lead back to double-digits.
Wall and Beal never were much of a factor after halftime.
--Rebounding was a mismatch early as the Wizards had a 14-5 edge. But that leveled off as the Celtics’ hustle got them back in it. They had a 14-7 rebounding edge in the third quarter when the Wizards had eight turnovers and allowed six threes by Boston.
--Crowder’s corner three off a mad scramble in which Oubre and Gortat hustled back in transition for blocks gave Boston its first lead at 73-71 at 6:55 of the third. Crowder made 5 of 6 threes as his team went into the fourth leading 95-80.
--Morris faced up Horford to go 1 vs. 1 to get the Wizards back in rhythm but he came down on his foot. A foul was called on Horford for not giving him a place to land but Morris stayed on the floor for several minutes before he was able to stand up and shook off his left foot. Morris has missed time this season because of his left foot and ankle. After making the foul shot, Morris left the floor and was replaced by Beal. Morris didn’t return until the third quarter began.
--Thomas was hidden on Porter, who wasn’t always able to turn that matchup into points. But he was able to get a double-double. The Wizards used Wall, Oubre, Porter and Beal to defend Thomas.
--Gortat didn’t have a big series vs. the Hawks because of their scheme of sitting back Dwight Howard, who is bigger and stronger, and clogging the lane. That took away Gortat’s dives on the screen-and-roll action with the guards. Boston, however, is undersized and the Wizards went right at Horford to begin the game and it resulted in a bucket for Gortat. He had a tapout that led to Beal’s 3 for a 5-0 lead.
--Boston tried to go to Amir Johnson to give them another dimension but he didn’t last long. He’s a skill and size mismatch still, and only lasted eight minutes.
--Horford picked up his third foul with 35.2 seconds left in the first half as he hit Porter’s arm as he crashed the glass. But he asserted himself late on the offensive glass and made his first three-pointer for a 106-99 lead midway in the fourth.
--If it weren’t for Olynyk, the game would’ve been over by the second quarter. But coach Brad Stevens adeptly realized that the Wizards were giving him up to take away their offense and he went to him in the post vs. smaller defenders. The 7-footer was too big for Porter and Oubre and got shots at the rim. He made 4 of 5 in the first quarter with Horford feeding him through high/low post action. As soon as Olynyk ducked in, he had the ball and was directly at the rim.
--Bogdanovic was exploited by the Celtics, who attacked in him every matchup which is why he picked up three fouls in his first seven minutes on the floor. That disrupted Bogdanovic’s rhythm as he was never able to be a factor until he scored seven points in a 28-second stretch of the fourth.
The list of players who need to play better for the Capitals to come back in their series with the Pittsburgh Penguin is a long one. At the top of the list, however, may be defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
A trade deadline acquisition, Shattenkirk was brought in to add balance and skill to the blue line. A year after bringing in depth defenseman Mike Weber with middling results, the Caps instead swung for the fences by bringing in a player with top four skill to plug into the power play and balance out the third pair with a right-handed shot.
The move does not seem to be having the desired results.
“[Shattenkirk’s] done some really good things offensively for us but at the same time, I think he's minus-7 in the playoffs so far,” Barry Trotz said on a conference call with the media on Sunday. “He's been mooring that third pairing for us.”
Shattenkirk’s minus-7 is a team low this postseason. Right behind him is his defensive partner, Brooks Orpik. Orpik’s minus-5 reflects just how much that third pair has been struggling, especially this series. Through two games against Pittsburgh, Shattenkirk is a minus-3 with no points.
Despite his struggles, however, Trotz said that he felt “comfortable” with the team's lines suggesting Shattenkirk will remain in the lineup. For now. Karl Alzner is still recovering from an upper-body injury, but Taylor Chorney is available should Trotz decide to make a move. While he may be a top-notch skater, however, there’s no question the ceiling is much higher for a player like Shattenkirk. He just has not been able to play at a level close to that ceiling yet.
“I think if you talked to Kevin he would admit that he could play better,” Trotz said. “I know he can play better and we'll talk to him and we'll make sure that he's better next game.”
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