- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2017

BOSTON — By Sunday evening, Washington was in a new postseason position and had a list of troubling issues.

The Wizards trail the Boston Celtics, 1-0, after a 123-111 loss in Game 1. Their starting power forward, Markieff Morris, was injured in the game and did not return. Boston made 19 3-pointers, a disheartening and crowd-inspiring barrage that led to an opening victory more so than any other stat. Washington even lost a 17-point first-half lead during Game 1 in TD Garden. Game 2 is Tuesday.

This is the first time the Wizards have trailed since the playoffs began. They took a 2-0 lead in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks, then closed that series in six games. After one game against top-seeded Boston, they are immediately trying to make up ground in their pursuit of reaching a conference final for the first time since 1979.

Trouble is, the Wizards have shown a propensity for the nuclear quarter. A disastrous 12-minute period when everything comes unraveled, flipping the game to their opponent. It happened twice in losses against Atlanta in the first round. Sunday’s meltdown arrived in the third quarter after Washington went into halftime with a 61-56 lead.

The Wizards turned the ball over just three times in the first half. Eight times in the third quarter. Boston turned those errors into 3-point make after 3-point make. The quarter had the feel of an older brother grabbing a sibling’s wrist, striking him in the face with his own hand and asking him why he does not stop hitting himself. Once it was over, Boston led, 95-80 after outscoring the Wizards by 20 points in yet another discombobulated quarter.

“This is problem the only time I can say this: I don’t like the consistency of it,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “It seems like every game, we’re having one of those quarters when we don’t play well.”

Because of a 16-0 opening run, silence flooded what was a raucous TD Garden. Boston trumpets its vast legacy when introducing players, folding the modern group into the past glories. Yet, when the lights came on, Boston appeared stuck in the introduction lines.

Marcin Gortat’s deep-paint score began a binge. Once it was over, Washington led 16-0, Boston had radically altered its strategy of playing small with Gerald Green as part of the starting group and the fans expecting an enjoyable Sunday afternoon didn’t know what to do.

“I had an old boss at Butler who’s one of my great friends, Todd Lickliter, who once called a timeout, we were down 12-0 or something,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “He said, ‘I don’t know if our plan of letting them score ‘til they get tired is a good one.’ And, that’s all I could think about, because I didn’t know if we’d ever score and I didn’t know if they’d ever stop scoring.”

The start was astonishing for its efficiency. All five Washington starters scored. When the lead flew to 20-3, Boston was desperate for a way to reset the game. It found it in Kelly Olynyk.

He scored 12 points in the first half by posting up smaller Wizards players like Bojan Bogdanovic and Otto Porter. Olynyk was so effective, that Brooks called timeout to send the larger Morris back into the game to snuff out the problem.

Three minutes later, when Morris rose for a pull-up jumper, Al Horford closed underneath him. Morris landed on Horford, severely twisting his ankle. He stayed on the ground for three minutes with a possibly series-altering injury. His teammates crowded around him. Morris eventually was pulled up, walked slowly to the free throw line and made his free throw. Washington immediately fouled to get him off the floor. He went to the locker room, where he sat receiving medical treatment and listening to the crowd roar, and did not return. What had been a distinct advantage for Washington evaporated with one wrong landing.

“Disaster,” Marcin Gortat said of what he was thinking when Morris was down. “I hope he’s going to be fine for Tuesday’s game. I lost my wing man. I need him dramatically. I’m by myself right now. I’m by myself out there. I’m battling a few big men out there.”

Gone was Morris’ size advantage. Plus, no one else on the Wizards has his skill set. He can post-up if Boston wants to play small. He can expand to the perimeter if Boston wants to play big — which it does not. The Celtics have embraced the open floor and flood of 3-point shots. Morris can help counter every layer of Boston’s preferred approach. Without him, the Wizards have to turn to inexperienced Kelly Oubre, a non-defender in Bogdanovic or a too-slow Jason Smith. Morris is adamant he will play in Game 2. Brooks did not commit to a postgame assessment.

Morris or not, Washington has a problem to solve. The Celtics made 19 3-pointers in Game 1, shooting them in transition, halfcourt and at any chance they had. Celtics small forward Jae Crowder was 6-for-8. The uncontainable Isaiah Thomas — who lost a tooth on his way to 33 points — made five. Seven Boston players made at least one 3-pointer leading to a 27-point Celtics advantage far from the basket. The shot brought them back into the game, then vaulted them into the lead in the third.

“We lacked some IQ and focus,” Bradley Beal said.

Washington pushed back in the fourth. Bogdanovic’s 3-pointer slashed the Celtics’ advantage to just three points with 6:39 to play. As unlikely as Boston’s rally from a 16-0 start seemed, the Wizards’ comeback felt even less possible. But, they were there, without Morris, withstanding the third quarter and 3-pointers, being screamed at by standing Bostonians, midway through the fourth quarter.

That flash of hope evaporated quickly. Consecutive Boston 3-pointers — what else? — pushed its lead back to 10 just two minutes later. There would be no further threat. Both teams sent their bench players onto the floor with more than a minute remaining, putting Washington in the new position of trailing in a series and multiple things to fix.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide