The Boston Celtics defeated the Washington Wizards 123-111 in Game One of their second-round series. Let’s look at how Boston won the opening contest and analyze some X-factors that will be key in determining which team ultimately comes out on top.
Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards: Series X-Factors After Game One
Markieff Morris’s Health
With about 7:18 left in the second quarter, Markieff Morris badly twisted his left ankle after landing on Al Horford’s foot. Morris left the game and did not return. His absence was crucial to Boston’s comeback win, in which they trailed 16-0 early on and 38-24 after the first quarter. Without Morris, the Wizards were forced to rely on Kelly Oubre and Bojan Bogdanovic to fill the fifth spot alongside their starters. While Oubre and Bogdanovic were both solid, totaling 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting, they allowed Isaiah Thomas to hide on defense – the two swingmen couldn’t do much damage beyond catch-and-shoot threes and a couple of cuts for Oubre. Morris provides Washington with a post presence and rebounder who can punish Boston’s small lineups.
Morris is also crucial because he was part of Washington’s lone dominant five-man lineup – its starters. The combination of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Morris, and Marcin Gortat played 1,147 minutes more than any other five-man unit for the Wizards during the regular season – a staggering number. In the playoffs, that lineup has outscored opposing teams by 18.9 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark of any group. It’s integral for Washington to have its starting lineup intact for the rest of the series.
The good news for the Wizards is that Morris said he’ll play in Game Two, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. We’ll see whether or not Morris is able to take on a full workload and makes his regular contributions. Morris’s health status may very well determine the winner of this series.
Depth and Bench Performances
With that in mind, another key will be each team’s bench performances. Washington’s bench has struggled all season, even with the additions of Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings at the trade deadline. Reserve center Ian Mahinmi is likely out for the series, making Morris’s injury sting more if it limits him again. The Wizards are thin, so they’ll need Oubre, Bogdanovic, and Jennings to be at their best if they want to compete with Boston’s deep bench.
In Game One, the Celtics started Gerald Green (as they did in their four first-round wins), but he’ll surely be a DNP next time after they were outscored by 13 in Green’s short-lived stint. Kelly Olynyk provided a nice scoring boost off the bench for Boston, helping the Celtics mount a comeback in the second quarter. Most importantly for the Celtics, Marcus Smart came in and played 31 minutes, putting on a stellar all-around performance. Smart hounded Washington’s star backcourt defensively and even contributed to Boston’s offensive attack.
The Celtics clearly have the edge here, as exemplified in Game One, so the Wizards’ reserves will have to step up, and they’ll have to hope that Morris stays healthy, in order to prevent large runs to start the second and fourth quarters.
The Celtics lead all teams in three-pointers made and attempted in these playoffs, launching 37.6 long bombs and making 13.6 per game. They continued that trend in Sunday’s game, going 19-for-39 from distance – an incredible 49 percent. The 19 three-pointers were a franchise playoff record.
While teams often get into the habit of taking contested threes or tough shots just because they are the best shot analytics-wise, that wasn’t the case for Boston in Game One. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Thomas, who finished with 33 points and nine assists, was running circles around Washington’s defense. The Celtics often ran their offense through Horford, who fell one rebound short of a triple-double. Without getting into the details, the team’s drive-and-kicks and constant off-ball movement led to plenty of great looks from beyond the arc, on which shooters such as Jae Crowder (6-for-8 from long range) capitalized.
To prevent another three-point barrage, the Wizards will need to stop this problem before it even starts. Wall has to stay in front of Thomas, and Washington’s big men need to crowd Horford and make it more difficult for him to find passing lanes. It’ll be easier said than done.
Finally, the Wizards had one more key flaw that held them back in Game One: rebounding. The rebound battle ended in a tie on Sunday, with each team grabbing 38 boards. However, Washington actually managed to pull down the first 12 rebounds of the game, meaning that Boston had a 38-26 edge on the glass the rest of the way. The Celtics are 28-3 this season when they don’t get out-rebounded. It’s been one of Boston’s biggest issues the entire year, and it was a problem in the first two games of the playoffs, when Robin Lopez terrorized the Celtics inside. Gortat and Morris feasted on the offensive glass to help the Wizards get out to that early lead, tapping the ball out multiple times for second-chance opportunities. Once those extra possessions disappeared, Boston’s superior three-point shooting and incredible offensive efficiency (1.34 points per possession in Game One) took over.
To win this series, Washington must crash the glass and win the rebounding battle by a wide margin. Morris will be crucial to that effort, because the Wizards’ best alternative options involve playing small lineups that can’t rebound as well.
If Morris gets close to 100 percent healthy, this will be a tight series. Both teams are talented and have shown plenty of fight already in these playoffs. With everyone in the lineup, I’d take Washington in six or (more likely, at this point) seven games. However, if Morris can’t be at his best, then the Wizards are too thin to last against this deep Celtics team. If Morris is out or limited, I’d pick Boston to win the series in six games. We’ll see which Washington team shows up for the rest of the series – the one that got off to a 16-0 start in Game One, or the one that got outscored 71-42 in the middle two quarters.