BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics have a chance to end their Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Wizards on Friday night.
The Celtics have the momentum back on their side following a convincing 123-101 win in Boston on Wednesday, but with the home team victorious in every game so far this series, this one feels somewhat destined to go seven. The Wizards have not lost on their home floor this postseason, and the Celtics know just how difficult it is to win down in DC, dropping all four of their contests there this season (the home team is 9-0 overall this season and postseason).
Boston will try to buck those trends at the Verizon Center tonight, while trying to continue another one. Washington is 0-7 at home when facing elimination since 1988, not that such a stat really matters given all but three of the players on their current roster were born after 1988. But their three stars (John Wall, Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat) played in two of those seven losses, which both just so happened to be a Game 6.
It should also be noted that in NBA playoff series that have been tied 2-2, the victors of Game 5 have gone on to win the series 83 percent of the time. While the Celtics can rely on the fact that a deciding Game 7 would be played at the TD Garden, it’d be best to just take care of business tonight.
So here’s what we’ll be watching for when the Celtics and Wizards tip-off on Friday night:
About the only drama in Boston’s Game 5 win was when the Wizards scored the first two buckets of the game, for fear the Celtics would get off to another slow start. That wasn’t the case, as Boston answered Washington’s 4-0 start with a 16-0 run and that was essentially the ballgame.
Big runs have been the story of the series (aside from that home court thing) and for the first time in Game 5, the Celtics were the ones putting the points on the board. The last time they played in Washington, the Wizards used 22-0 and 26-0 runs to coast to easy wins. But the C’s kept their turnovers to a minimum and slowed down the Washington fast break on Wednesday, not to mention won the war on the boards, which limited Washington’s ability to go on one of those runs and never let them chip away at their 20-point lead.
It all happened because the Celtics got off to a quick start, which Boston wasn’t able to do over the first four games of the series. A similar start on Friday night would amplify the pressure on Washington, and could take them out of the game early.
Horford Needs To Continue His Postseason Dominance
Al Horford has been everything the Celtics wanted when they signed him to the ginormous contract over the offseason. He’s been nothing short of spectacular over Boston’s 11 postseason games, averaging 15.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists. His shooting percentages are simply absurd, hitting 64 percent of his shots from the field and 56.7 percent from three-point range. He’s been even better against the Wizards, upping those percentages to 69 percent and 59 percent, respectively.
Horford was a force in Game 5, hitting eight of his nine shots for 19 points to go with seven assists and six rebounds. He did just about everything, which is what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing this postseason. He even added three block shots, rejecting a pair of John Wall drives to the hoop early in the tilt. Wall looked timid for much of the evening, and Horford played a big part in that.
Isaiah Thomas is Boston’s star player, but it’s become clear this postseason that Horford is their leader.
IT’s Supporting Cast
The Wizards have done a pretty good job at slowing down Thomas over the last three games, keeping him under 20 points in each. So rather than light up the scoreboard on Wednesday, a difficult task with a pair of defenders on him at all times, IT did just about everything else to make sure his teammates could put the ball in the hoop. He played facilitator and even set some great screens that led to easy shots.
A big part of that was the fact his teammates were actually hitting shots. Avery Bradley had a career night and Jae Crowder knocked down the open looks he’s been missing throughout the playoffs. That will have to continue if Boston wants to win without Isaiah accounting for 40-50 percent of their points.
That’s not to say Isaiah doesn’t have another dominating night in him, but if Wednesday showed the Celtics anything, it was that they can win without Thomas owning the scoreboard.
It’s no secret that the Celtics love the long-range attack. It’s often excessive and downright frustrating, but it’s one of their deadliest weapons. The C’s shot 16-of-33 (49 percent) from downtown in Game 5, which will be a tough task to repeat. But if they’re hitting those deep shots on Friday night, chances are they’ll be preparing for the Cavaliers and not a Game 7 come Saturday morning.
Horford is leading all Boston shooters with that ridiculous 59 percent from downtown, with Thomas next on the list of regulars at 47 percent. Surprisingly, Crowder is third at 44 percent (10-of-23).
Bonus: Love For Kelly
Boston fans chanted a naughty word toward Kelly Oubre Jr. on Wednesday night, and the Wizards fanbase was all up in arms over it. A bad word at a sporting event — the horror!
Now Wizards fans can send their own disparaging chants at a Kelly, with Oubre’s buddy Kelly Olynyk hitting the Verizon Center floor once again (no pun intended?). Maybe they’ll have something clever for him instead of just booing every time he touches the ball, but after Wednesday night’s outrage at Boston’s potty mouths, it will probably be something cordial and respectful.
But if the Celtics can jump out to an early lead, none of that will matter. And we may even be treated to some more slick dance moves from “The Clynk.”
Tune in to Celtics-Wizards Game 6 on 98.5 The Sports Hub — the flagship station of the Boston Celtics. Pregame coverage begins at 7:30pm!