BOSTON – When the Boston Celtics left for Washington Wednesday afternoon, they seemed to be in complete control of their second-round series, holding a 2-0 advantage over the Wizards. However, after dropping Games 3 and 4 in lopsided fashion, the Celtics have returned to Boston searching for answers as they prepare for Wednesday’s pivotal Game 5 matchup.
The Celtics did not practice Monday, but held a lengthy film session in order to dissect and solve their latest issues against the Wizards. Coach Brad Stevens later highlighted some of the main points of emphasis during a conference call with the media.
Combatting Washington’s Defense vs. Thomas
Washington had no answer to Isaiah Thomas’ explosive scoring early in the series, as he totaled 86 points and attempted 56 field goals during Games 1 and 2.
During Games 3 and 4, the Wizards managed to uncover the solution: Load up on Boston’s point guard until he can’t find the basket.
Washington threw two – sometimes three – defenders on Thomas during the last two games, and as a result, he totaled just 32 points on 22 shot attempts.
“I think they’re not only doing a good job of being there, with the guy defending a pick-and-roll, but also with the next guy getting help,” said Stevens. “I think that they’re really loading up and so sometimes there’s a look of two guys, a look of three guys that are all in that vicinity. I think one of the things as we look at it and as we watched it – we just had a film session with our group – we’ll have a couple of different ways that we’ll look at countering that.”
One obvious way to counter Washington’s defensive tactics against Thomas is to have other players step up and take on a heavier scoring load. Thomas tallied 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting during Sunday’s Game 4 loss, while the other four Celtics starters combined to score just 29 points on 11-of-31 shooting.
Washington coach Scott Brooks says that stifling Thomas on the offensive end will continue to be priority No. 1 for the Wizards, considering the way the All-Star point guard torched his squad during the first two games of the series.
“We have to be aware of how he plays,” Brooks said after Washington’s Game 4 win. “He is one of the hardest guards to guard in this league. He gets wherever he wants with his ball handling skills. We have to continue to make him see a crowd.”
With Thomas being flocked by defenders, this means Boston should be able to find an open man to feed. The C’s have plenty of capable shooters, but they need to start converting at a higher rate if they hope to take some pressure off of Thomas.
Curbing Turnovers, Limiting Washington’s Runs
The main reason why Boston lost Games 3 and 4 was because they allowed the Wizards to go on monumental, lopsided runs during both contests.
Washington’s 116-89 win Thursday night was sparked by a 22-0 run during the first quarter, and then its 121-102 win Sunday night was made possible by a 26-0 run during the third quarter.
“Those two runs are killers in games like that, and you’re not going to be able to recover from those,” said Stevens. “So we have to do a much better job with a number of different things.”
The coach said that turnovers were the main root of those scoreless stretches. Boston coughed the ball up six times during Washington’s 26-0 run, and most of those mistakes resulted in easy transition buckets for the Wizards on the other end.
“(The Wizards) are exceptionally athletic, very long and they’re doing a great job of flying to the ball,” Stevens said in regard to Washington’s ability to force turnovers. “We just have to space better, we have to be able to make them pay for some of the over help, and we have to be more patient in making our reads.”
The Celtics spent a significant amount of time during Monday’s film session focusing on how to halt Washington’s streaky stretches, and they seemed eager to correct their mistakes.
“Our guys are certainly disappointed in the runs that we’ve allowed in each of the last two games and how that took us out,” said Stevens. “But our guys approach this with a great attitude, with a desire to learn from what went wrong, and a desire to improve and get back up off the mat to get ready to compete on Wednesday.”