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Game 5 Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics

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After he was limited to 14 points in Game 2 and 11 in Game 3, Bradley Beal broke out for 29 points with four rebounds in Sunday’s 121-102 Game 4 victory that evened the Wizards-Celtics first round series 2-2. Beal was also central to a perfectly executed defensive game plan that left a frustrated Isaiah Thomas complaining about his lack of free throw attempts after the game.

Home court has been huge in the series – neither team has beaten the other on its court this season, including regular season and playoffs. That could prove decisive as the series shifts to Boston for Game 5 Wednesday at 8 PM. The Celtics finished first in the East, so a potential Game 7 would be played in Boston as well.

The Wizards are outscoring the Celtics by a series-best 28.3 points per 100 possessions with Markieff Morris on court. Defensively, the Wizards are surrendering 93.3 points per 100 with Morris on court and 124.8 when he’s on the bench, easily a series-best defensive rating differential. However, he has only played 92 minutes compared to 138 for Marcin Gortat and 150 or more for the other starters. Morris played only 11 minutes in Game 1 after suffering a sprained ankle. It’s difficult to overstate how vital extended minutes for Morris is to Washington’s success. By contrast, Kelly Oubre Jr.’s absence due to suspension in Game 4 didn’t hurt the Wizards (and likely helped) as he has posted a series-worst -33.6 net rating.

Just as was the case against Atlanta, all five of Washington’s starters have posted a positive net rating for the series while the entire bench has been in the negative. Boston has had to rely on a deeper, superior bench while the starting unit has struggled. The Wizards are scoring 121.4 points per 100 with Thomas on court but only 89.2 in the 54 minutes he’s been on the bench. Celtics coach Brad Stevens may need to consider extending minutes for Terry Rozier, who has posted an astounding +29.4 net rating in 72 minutes compared to Thomas’ -11.1. Meanwhile, Avery Bradley’s defensive impact hasn’t lived up to the hype. The Celtics are allowing 119 points per 100 when he’s on court compared to just 98.3 in 62 minutes off-court.

Game 5 Prediction:

Despite a strong series from Washington’s front court and Scott Brooks’ proven ability to make defensive adjustments and match wits with Stevens, the Wizards won’t hold Thomas without a free throw attempt in Boston. This has been a back-and-forth series with stars from each team taking turns with big games. Washington missed a huge opportunity to take one on the road in Game 2. That will continue to haunt the Wizards as Boston takes Game 5 to go up 3-2 in the series.

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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.