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Game 3 Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics

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John Wall and Isaiah Thomas made a lot of history last night. Wall became the first player in Wizards history with multiple 40-point games in a single postseason, according to StatMuse, which also noted that he’s the first player since 1985 with 40 points and 10 assists in a playoff game against Boston. Thomas’ 53 were the second-highest point total in Celtics playoff history. As Boston coach Brad Stevens said at the podium afterward, “What else is there to say?”

Quite a lot, actually, as Game 2 served as a psychological turning point in the series. The Wizards scored the first 16 points of Game 1 and had another big first quarter in Game 2 with 42 points. Washington led by as much as 13 in the opening frame. But according to ESPN Stats & Info, the Celtics became the first team in the shot-clock era to lead a series 2-0 after trailing by double digits in the first quarter of both games. This happened because Thomas’ greatness outshone Wall’s greatness. In the fourth quarter and overtime, the Wizards scored 30 points. Thomas scored 29.

Washington now faces the grim task of trying to win four of a maximum of five games remaining in the series after blowing a huge opportunity to win Game 2 on the road and seize home court advantage. And down the stretch, it was Wall’s inability to deliver in the biggest moments that put the Wizards in this hole. Washington entered the fourth quarter with a five-point lead and led 110-104 with 2:43 to play after Marcin Gortat’s free throw. From there, Wall missed a three-pointer, missed one of two free throws and missed a potential game-winning 18-foot jumper with three seconds left. Earlier in the fourth, Wall had bad passes on consecutive possessions, one of which led to an Avery Bradley three-pointer.

Meanwhile, Thomas was indescribable, making huge play after huge play. Thomas hit a three-pointer with 2:26 to play, then assisted Terry Rozier on a three with 1:38 to play that tied it at 110-110. Thomas then hit a 19-footer with 46 seconds remaining as the Celtics briefly took the lead before Otto Porter Jr. responded with a three. Thomas’ free throws with 14 seconds to play tied it and forced overtime, where the Celtics dominated. Rozier has been a revelation in these playoffs. Boston is outscoring opponents by an unimaginable 29.5 points per 100 possessions with Rozier on court, the best net rating in the playoffs among players averaging at least 15 minutes.

Wall hasn’t had that kind of help off the bench, as Washington’s reserves have ranged from Jason Smith’s -7.8 net rating to Kelly Oubre Jr.’s -28.8. The Wizards looked tired down the stretch. If the bench can’t give Washington something, it’s hard to imagine the Wizards recovering to make the series competitive. Oubre was -24 in the box score for Game 2 despite leading the bench with 12 points and seven rebounds. Meanwhile, Al Horford had 15 points and 12 huge rebounds while forcing Gortat to guard him out to the three-point line.

For Game 3, look for the Celtics’ superior volume and quality of depth to continue to be a factor. Horford will need to continue to win his match-up against Gortat, while Bradley must continue to play phenomenal defense on Bradley Beal. The latter’s six turnovers were a playoff career-high while his 1-for-9 shooting from three and 14 total points was further evidence of how little help Wall had.

For the Wizards, somebody besides Wall has to step up and have a big game. Markieff Morris (+12.5) has led the Wizards in net rating for the postseason, followed by Porter (+7.3) and Beal (+4.6). All are threats to break out in Game 3, but Washington really needs the bench to step up and relieve some of the minutes burden for the starters.

Game 3 Prediction:

At the start of the series, we predicted that this was John Wall’s time after his brilliant series against Atlanta. But in the waning moments of Game 2, Thomas pointed to his wrist and corrected us. This is Isaiah’s time. Look for the Celtics to win Game 3 in Washington as they shove the Wizards aside on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

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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.