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Game 1 Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics

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The Boston Celtics made history on Friday, becoming the fourth team in NBA history and first Eastern Conference team to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games at home. Boston had to do so in the midst of grieving for the loss of Celtics’ point guard Isaiah Thomas’ sister, Chyna Thomas, who lost her life in a single-car accident mere hours before the series began. Thomas played an inspirational message from former Celtic Kevin Garnett prior to Game 3 in Chicago, which helped spur the team to four consecutive wins to take the series. Gerald Green’s move into Boston’s starting lineup in place of Amir Johnson was a key adjustment by coach Brad Stevens that helped turn the tide.

Boston now faces a Washington Wizards team that rebuffed the Atlanta Hawks’ efforts to shift momentum by going small. The Wizards struggled to attack the basket with Dwight Howard on the court, but Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer played right into Washington’s hands by playing Paul Millsap and Mike Muscala significant minutes at center. The backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal dominated with 29.5 and 25.8 points per game, respectively, both in the top 10 for the playoffs. And the Wizards outscored Atlanta by better than 12 points per 100 possessions with Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris on the court, giving Washington one of the most dominant starting fives in these playoffs.

For the Celtics to win, Thomas and shooting guard Avery Bradley will need to be at their absolute best. Beal has become a massive weapon, not just on shots set up by Wall, but as a facilitator in Washington’s offense. Beal leads the Wizards in efficiency as the ball handler in the pick and roll, so Avery can’t hope to slow him by merely limiting his catches and contesting shots. Boston will have nowhere to hide Thomas on defense against the Wizards’ first unit, so his best hope to offset Wall will be to outscore him and make him work on the defensive end. Washington’s depth is not good, so production from Boston’s second unit will be key.

For Washington, trapping Thomas to force others to make plays will be one key to avoiding a huge series from him. Morris was among the Wizards’ on-court net rating leaders, but he spent a lot of time on the bench in foul trouble. His ability to avoid cheap fouls and extend his minutes will be hugely important. Porter hasn’t been a major factor offensively, so he will need to make the Celtics pay if they try hiding Thomas on him. Marcin Gortat will spend a lot of time chasing Al Horford on the perimeter. Reserve forward Jason Smith was a fouling machine against Atlanta, so the Wizards have few options if Gortat proves ineffective.

Who Wins Game 1?

This is Wall’s time. The Celtics caught a huge break when Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo was lost for the series. That allowed Thomas to close out guarding Isaiah Canaan, who spent much of the year as the fourth point guard on Chicago’s depth chart. Thomas must now go from checking Canaan to guarding the runaway train known as John Wall. Wizards take Game 1 in Boston.

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About Buddy Grizzard

Buddy Grizzard

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.