- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2018

Over the past few days, the Wizards have been on a full-on defense to make sure people know they are not better without John Wall. Bradley Beal said he would say it as many times as it was necessary to defend his teammate. Markieff Morris added you’d have to be a “fool” to even suggest the notion. Coach Scott Brooks called the idea “clickbait.”

But as much as the Wizards have insisted they aren’t better without Wall, perhaps the best signifier Washington still needs their star was in the team’s 110-104 overtime loss Thursday to the Boston Celtics.

The last time the Celtics visited the District — Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals — Wall hit a game-winning 3-pointer to force a Game 7. Wall jumped on the scorer’s table after the buzzer sounded, with no doubt that he was a franchise player.

The Wizards missed him this time around. Three points from Thursday:

Everybody eats and gets full

The Wizards had 22 turnovers, one off their season-high. The Celtics had 24 points off of those and there were moments where the Wizards could have used Wall’s passing.

Brooks said the Celtics did a good job of clogging the passing lanes and forcing steals. But too often, the Wizards became overly passive, letting the shot clock wind down before they had to force up a bad shot or cough up a turnover.

The Wizards have preached to win without Wall, they’re going to have to continuously pass the ball. That worked great in their previous five-game win streak. But they’ve now lost two in a row. Sometimes there’s a balance between passing and finding the right shot, Beal acknowledged.

“There are sometimes where we overpass it,” Beal said. “I think we had a shot clock violation because of it. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to take shots and shoot them with confidence. If they go in, they go in. If not, they don’t. We’re not going to complain about it.”

Wall’s return won’t magically prevent the Wizards from turning over the ball. They had a season-high 23 turnovers against Milwaukee, a game Wall played in. But Wall has a great assist-to-turnover ratio, and Wall would have been an extra attacker to help relieve some of the pressure off Beal and others.

Beal’s off night

The Celtics continued to make life difficult for Beal. In their meeting on Christmas, Beal shot only 40 percent, but still finished with 25 points in the Wizards’ 111-103 win.

But Thursday, Boston again focused its attention on Beal, especially with Wall out. They switched defenders onto him throughout the night and prevented him from getting clean looks.

Beal played a whopping 44 minutes and finished with just 18 points on 7-for-27 shooting. At times, Beal looked exhausted with his jumper routinely falling short. He missed a potential game-winner in regulation at the buzzer, getting trapped into a bad look.

Still, Beal was aggressive and tried to attack the basket as much as possible. Despite taking 27 shots, Beal managed to get to the free throw line just once — a stat that didn’t go unnoticed by Brooks.

“He got one free throw,” Brooks said. “That’s what he does. When you have a tough shooting night, you attack. That’s what he’s supposed to do. He’s supposed to do what he does, and he couldn’t get to the line.”

Wizards’ rally falls short

Washington rallied from when they were down eight with less than six minutes left in the fourth. Wizards forward Kelly Oubre hit a 3 to give the Wizards a 92-91 lead with 2:11 left, but a series of mistakes cost them late.

Morris fouled Celtics guard Kyrie Irving with 9.8 seconds left on a 3-point attempt. Irving sank all three free throws, which allowed the Celtics to get to overtime. There, the Wizards went just 2-for-12 in the extra period — another instance where Washington has struggled in the clutch.

Brooks said his team showed resilience, but they have to clean up their mistakes.

“I’m assuming we missed probably 20-something shots inside the paint and that on top of the turnovers and they made shots,” Brooks said.

Beal said the Wizards need to do a better job of finishing, especially without Wall.

“We have to get used to it,” he said.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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