- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2017

How much is a possible season-ending loss — again — in a Game 6 on the Wizards’ mind?

“Strongly,” Bradley Beal said.

Three times in the last four seasons, Washington has given the Eastern Conference’s top seed a push. Twice, those series ended in the sixth game inside Verizon Center.

Those seasons, Beal and John Wall would have to ascend the steps to the postgame press conference about 15 feet from where Wizards coach Scott Brooks spoke Thursday afternoon. They would again explain that they were close, that they thought they should have won, that they’re not exactly sure why they did not.

Friday night could produce a similar journey. The base circumstance is the same: Washington trails the top-seeded Boston Celtics 3-2 with the series shifting back to Washington. Should the Wizards lose Friday night, dealing with the indignity of yet another season-ending postseason home loss, Beal and Wall will be charged with explaining, however from a different spot. After the Verizon Center was reconfigured before last season,the old space for the postseason press conferences went away. They occur now on the Wizards’ practice court. If Washington is bounced, Beal and Wall will sit in the sunken court they worked all year on to explain why the season is over.

“John and I have been there before, [Marcin] Gortat’s been there, Otto [Porter], we’ve all been there before,” Beal said Wednesday night. “There’s no more bitter feeling than that — losing on your own home floor and getting knocked out.”

A trio of issues met in Game 5 to put Washington in this position.

To start was an outlier first half from Boston’s Avery Bradley. He scored 25 points in the two quarters Wednesday. That was a postseason career-high.

“You don’t anticipate that happening,” Brooks said.

Boston also spent Game 5, a 123-101 never-close thumping, making a bevy of 3-pointers. It was 16-for-33 from behind the 3-point line, leaving Brooks to shake his head.

“I’m not sure any of them were challenged,” he said Wednesday.

Remember Game 1? That was an eventual Celtics runaway in Boston built on made 3-pointers. Nineteen that night. Then 16 more in Game 5. Boston made 37 3-pointers in the three games in between.

Lastly, a twist. The Celtics began to leak out for layups and fast breaks in a way they did not earlier in the series. It seemed that each Wall drive which concluded with him not being fouled and on the ground, produced a layup for Boston.

Blend Bradley, the 3-pointers and fast breaks for a toxic mixture that has again put the Wizards on the brink. History overwhelmingly favors Boston to now win the series prior to a tussle with the napping Cleveland Cavaliers, who swept their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. When home teams win Game 5 in a best-of-seven series, they go on to win the series almost 92 percent of the time.

The climb back begins Friday. Washington has to find a way to counter Boston’s offense, which is now flowing through big man Al Horford. Isaiah Thomas set multiple screens in Game 5. Horford operated as distributor. No matter who handles the ball, the Wizards need a rapid solution to again square the series.

“Your back’s against the wall,” Brooks said Thursday. “We’re disappointed we didn’t play like we know we’re capable of playing. The focus for whatever reason, we didn’t have that in the first quarter and they jumped on us. Lot of transition points. But, we did not lose the series, we lost the game. I have a lot of confidence in our guys, we played well all year long in front of our fans. We’re 5-0 [at home] in the playoffs.”

Brooks is searching for multiple improvements Friday. He wants better effort, particularly early. He wants the ball to move more. He wants his players to sprint back to snuff out Boston’s fast break opportunities that popped up in Game 5 because of grousing about the officials, bad positioning or lack of desperation to recover.

The players had the day off Thursday. Some came to Verizon Center for light shooting or to have their aches pushed out by a trainer. Brooks and his staff met to plan what’s next.

He will have bullet points ready to discuss. If his comments Thursday were any indication of a prevailing theme, he will be telling the team that being blown out in Boston cost them just a game, but not the series. He said as much three times in 15 minutes Thursday.

“I’ll tell our guys [Friday]: If you had to win two games to get to the conference finals, would you take that? They all to a man will say, ‘Yes,’” Brooks said.

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