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Sunday, 14 May 2017 13:31

Winning Is Not Easy for Boston Celtics, as They Prepare for Game 7 vs. Washington Wizards

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The cruel ending to Game 6 allows the Boston Celtics to reset and prepare for what is expected to be a thrilling Game 7 Monday night.

“If [winning] was easy, it would be for everybody.”

No, that’s not a fortune cookie message from your previous night’s order of crab Rangoon, but instead, words of wisdom from one former Boston Celtics legend to one in the making.

After getting advice from Kobe Bryant, in addition to a voicemail (later relayed to the entire team) from Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce reached out to Isaiah Thomas to offer up some sage advice.

Those words – which were relayed from Thomas to the media Friday morning – couldn’t ring clearer after Friday night’s dispiriting 92-91 Game 6 loss to the Washington Wizards, a game which would have put the Celtics in the conference finals for the first time since 2012, a time in which Thomas was a hard-working rookie on a dysfunctional Sacramento Kings squad, and the Celtics were looking to salvage any remaining magic from the Big-Three era.

With 1:34 remaining in Game 6 Friday night, Thomas appeared to have sealed the Wizards’ fate with 10 of the Celtics’ 22 fourth-quarter points to his name.

Those buckets all had the feel of daggers.

Thomas nailed a three-pointer off of an offensive rebound from Al Horford to give the Celtics an 80-79 advantage with less than five minutes remaining, hit a filthy step back jumper in the corner over Markieff Morris two minutes later, and followed that up the next offensive possession with a picture-esque three-pointer over the outstretched hands of John Wall.

The result?

An 87-82 Celtics lead with 1:34 remaining, the Wizards hanging on by a thread, and a 96.2 percent chance of victory after John Wall’s offensive foul the next possession, according to Inpredictable.

If [winning] was easy, it would be for everybody.

The game of professional basketball – despite its extended commercial breaks and timeouts – can turn itself on its head in a matter of moments.

Friday was no different – and in a cruel and unusual way – Thomas was at the center of it.

With possession of the ball and a five-point cushion, the Wizards blitzed a pick at midcourt designed for Thomas. Brad Stevens – in hindsight – should have used one of the Celtics’ three timeouts at that point. Instead, Thomas flung the ball to no one in particular, where it was eventually gobbled up by Marcin Gortat.

“One of the things is, if you turn the ball over against these guys you prefer to drop kick it into the stands so that at least you can set your defense.”

Brad Stevens said that after the Celtics’ 121-102 Game 4 loss in Washington, a defeat highlighted by a Wizards 26-0 run, as well as 18 Boston turnovers.

That quote can be attached to any NBA opponent, yet against a player like Wall – who can generate coast to coast layups in a matter of seconds – and a shooter like Bradley Beal – who shot 37 percent this on pull-up three’s, and 40 percent on above the break three’s during the regular season, according to NBA.com – it’s a death sentence.

By now, the NBA world – including Celtics fans – knows what transpired.

The Wizards closed the gap, tied the game, let the lead slip momentarily on an Al Horford bank shot, and were ultimately rescued by Wall’s 26-foot nail in the coffin.

The fact that Wall has shot 28.6 percent on pull-up three-pointers during the playoffs – down slightly from his 29.9 mark in the regular season – is extra salt in the Celtics’ wounds.

Game 7 will happen because the schedule says so, because these two teams always seemed destined to go the full length.

Whatever result comes from Monday night at the TD Garden, it won’t come easy.

Winning never does.

In Favor of the Celtics

Monday night’s deciding Game 7 rightfully has Celtics fans feeling uneasy about their team.

Here are a number of stats and tidbits that point in the Celtics’ favor:

-- The Celtics have won four-straight home playoff games after dropping Games 1 and 2 at home to Chicago. The Wizards, including three-straight road losses at the TD Garden, sport a 1-5 road playoff record in 2017.

-- The Wizards were just 19-22 on the road during the regular season, while the Celtics were 30-11 at home.

-- The Wizards’ offense doesn’t travel: During the regular season, Washington sported an offensive rating of 106.5 on the road, compared to 110.5 at home. That gap has only widened during the playoffs (albeit with a limited sample size), with a rating of 104.2 on the road, as opposed to 109.7 at the Verizon Center.

-- Boston’s bench in Game 6, with all of five points scored, was absent from the box score. An NBA playoff cliché that ‘role players play better at home’ appears to be utterly true in this series.

-- The quartet of Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Jaylen Brown has certainly proved that notion correct. Here are the combined home/road splits for the bunch:

Home: (22 games played) 7.32 PTS; 47% FG%; 39% 3PT; +/- +136

Road: (24 games played) 5.5 PTS; 37 FG%; 31% 3PT; +/- +2

-- The Wizards, outside of Game 3 and 4 performances from Bojan Bogdanovic, have gotten zero production from their bench.

-- How will Scott Brooks disperse his starter’s minutes? They have to be getting worn out, right?

John Wall and Bradley Beal have averaged 38.4 and 38.1 minutes per game in this series, respectively, more than two minutes more than the next closest Celtics player (Isaiah Thomas, 36 minutes per game).

-- His heroic Game 6 shot notwithstanding, Wall has shot just 36 percent since his 40-point Game 2 explosion, largely thanks to Avery Bradley’s relentless defense. Expect Brad Stevens – in a similar way a cornerback might shadow a star wide receiver – to mirror Bradley’s minutes exactly with Wall’s.

Beal is the wildcard, particularly with the Celtics seeming to settle on Thomas matching up on defense with him. That has yet to work when the Celtics play at the Verizon Center, as Beal has averaged 24.3 points on 55 percent shooting at home, compared to 18.6 points on 38 percent shooting at the TD Garden in this series.

-- Al Horford was signed, in part for this reason, with two career Game 7’s under his belt – along with 86 career playoff games – the Celtics should look to Horford to facilitate even more in this game; He has absolutely destroyed Marcin Gortat.

The Wizards don’t have much playoff history to speak of, and even in the mix of their current roster, Gortat is the only one with an extensive individual postseason history. This Celtics group thrives off of playing with their backs against the wall under Stevens; playing in front of a raucous and focused TD Garden crowd will only help.

Cory Prescott

Cory Prescott is the Editor at Large for Boston Celtics coverage on CLNS Radio. 

Cory is a graduate of Susquehanna University, graduating with a degree in Communications - Journalism.  While at Susquehanna, Cory spent three years as the sports editor for the school's weekly newspaper.  He also worked for the Crusaders Athletics Communications Department.

Following graduation, Cory spent time writing for the Maine Hockey Journal, as well as Boston Sports Then & Now, in addition to his own blog, Brain Freeze.

A native Mainer, Cory has been residing in Boston for the past few years.

Follow Cory on twitter @CLNS_Prescott.