The Boston Celtics fell behind 16-0 in game one of their first round series against the Washington Wizards and you could hear a pin drop at the TD Garden.
But the nervous silence wouldn’t last for that long as things slowly started to click for the Celtics. The floodgates eventually opened and the game would end with human victory cigar James Young dribbling out the clock.
A lot has to happen for a game with such a one sided start can turn into a contest where Young gets to play the final 53 seconds of action. Here are five things that stood out as the Celtics stormed back to their first game one win since the second round in 2012 against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart owned John Wall
The numbers that John Wall put up in game one will look impressive to a casual fan quickly glancing at the box score; 20 points and 16 assists. But at times he looked like a very average player as he turned the ball over eight times in the game, costing a team that shot over 50% from the floor plenty of opportunities to score throughout the game. The ball was stolen from him five times, three from Avery Bradley and twice from Marcus Smart. Wall also air balled a three as the shot clock was expiring with Bradley cloaked on him – which counts as a turnover – and threw a few terrible looking passes out of bounds. Bradley went one-on-one with him in isolation at the end of the first quarter and forced a Wall miss at the buzzer and Smart blocked a John Wall shot in the same situation at the end of the second quarter. His impressive scoring and assist totals are thanks to him taking advantage of Isaiah Thomas’ weak defense, but as long as Bradley and Smart can contain Wall for stretches of these games it will be very easy for Boston to limit the Wizards best player.
Thomas and Olynyk saved C’s early
Mr. Fourth Quarter was a fun narrative early on in the season, but Isaiah Thomas had only two points in the final frame – the Celtics first of the quarter – as Boston pulled away to open the series with a win. While it was the likes of Al Horford, Jae Crowder and even Jaylen Brown getting the clutch bucks down the stretch, Thomas was huge early on by scoring 12 points in the first quarter. Kelly Olynyk also got hot early and put up ten of his own in the first 12 minutes of action. If you do the math, Thomas and Olynyk scored 22 first quarter points between the two of them and the Celtics as a team only had 24; Avery Bradley scored the other two after swiping the ball away from John Wall and going coast-to-coast for an uncontested layup. Boston trailed by a whopping 14 when that forgettable opening frame was over with but just imagine how much worse things could have been if the team’s tallest and shortest players weren’t hitting shots. You can talk all you want about the guys who showed up down the stretch, but it probably wouldn’t have even been a game if it wasn’t for Thomas and Olynyk showing up early on as the Wizards could have put their lead up to 20 or 30.
Marcin Gortat became a ghost in the second half
Boston didn’t seem to have an answer for Wizards center Marcin Gortat early on in game one, but that all changed in the second half. The Polish center – who played a key bench role for the Orlando Magic in knocking off the then-defending champion Celtics back in 2009 – scored 14 points and snagged ten boards in the first half but he was held to just two points on 1-for-5 shooting and three rebounds over the final 24 minutes of game action. Gortat is coming off what could be seen as a career year for him. He scored 10.8 PPG while shooting a career high 57.9% from the floor and also averaged a career best 10.4 RPG but the 33-year old veteran was very quiet in Washington’s first round series against the Atlanta Hawks, scoring just 11 points over the final four games of the series. It must have been nice from the Wizards to see him fly out of the gate like that but it was clear when his game came crashing down like that it really hurt them.
Al Horford took that game over
The Celtics $113 million man did next to nothing in the opening quarter as he was subbed out in favor of Kelly Olynyk with the score sitting at 16-0 just four minutes in; Horford would win up finishing the game with a +21 rating, which was second on the team only to Jae Crowder. Boston had just a six point lead when the veteran big man checked in with 9:08 remaining and he would go on to score nine points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting, snag two rebounds and dish out three assists with his team coasting to a 12 point victory. When it was all said and done, Horford was just one rebound shy of a triple-double. This is why he’s getting paid so much money. The Celtics entered the final frame with a 15 point lead and it squandered away with Horford on the bench only to have the lead balloon back out to double figures just moments after he set foot on the floor again. Even while sharing the floor with point guards Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas, it was Horford screaming out plays to his teammates from the floor down the stretch and everything he called for seemed to be working. Thomas is the All-Star because points are “sexy” in the NBA, but make no mistake; Al Horford is the best and most important player on this basketball team.
Jae Crowder finally got his shots falling…and they were timely
Jae Crowder shot 39.8% from beyond the arc this year, which was overwhelmingly a career high and also led the team among player who attempted at least one three pointer per game. Because of his strong shooting year, it was pretty disappointing to see Crowder shoot just 27.3% from downtown in the Celtics first round matchup against the Bulls. Things changed for the better in game one against Washington as the former Big East Player of the Year sunk six of his eight three point attempts en route to a 24 point performance. The best thing about these shots though is how timely they were in terms of the game flow as each one got the sold out TD Garden crowd on their feet screaming. His first three was on the opening possession of the second quarter, ejecting some rays of hope into the fans after a horrible first quarter. The next one tied the game at 42 all, marking the first time that the two teams had been knotted up since it was 0-0. Crowder’s third triple is what gave Boston their first lead of the game and when the Wizards tied the game on their next possession, guess who went knocked down a shot from beyond the arc to put Boston back on top…this time for good. He also knocked down a three late in the third to give the Celtics an 11 point lead which led to Wizards coach Scott Brooks calling a timeout; Crowder stood at center court flexing as the crowd rose to their feet. The final three was with 4:45 left to put Boston back up by ten points. Washington never got the game back to double-figures after that.