Bradley steps up as Celtics handily beat Wizards in Game 5, 123-101

Bradley steps up as Celtics handily beat Wizards in Game 5, 123-101

BOSTON – Home cooking continues to be a recipe for success in this Boston-Washington playoff series, with the Celtics putting together their best all-around performance in handily defeating the Wizards, 123-101.

Boston now leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 with a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a Game 6 win.

But you have to believe there will be a Game 7 back in Boston considering the home team has won each of the first five games by double figures.

And it was the Celtic who has been with the franchise the longest time, Avery Bradley, leading the way.

In addition to playing strong defense most of the night against John Wall, Bradley had a playoff career-high 29 points which is also the most points the veteran guard has scored at the TD Garden.

Bradley’s big-time scoring night was huge, as it took a tremendous amount of pressure off Boston’s leading scorer, Isaiah Thomas.

For most of the game, Thomas seemed more concerned with finding teammates for scores rather than getting his own scoring on track. He finished with a near double-double of 18 points and nine assists.

As well as the Celtics played, there was a sense that at any moment the Wizards would get going and climb their way back into the game.

Washington has been a team of runs throughout this series, so you kind of figured at some point they would put a surge of significance together.

Not tonight.

Give the Celtics credit.

Every time the Wizards would string a couple of baskets together, one of two things happened: Brad Stevens would call a time-out to settle his group down, or they would take things into their own hands and find a way to get back on track with big stops defensive on the perimeter and at the rim, not to mention timely shots from players besides Isaiah Thomas.

Indeed, Thomas got a huge helping hand from his teammates who unlike Games 3 and 4 – both Boston losses – were far more aggressive at attacking the Wizards’ defense.

No one embodied this new mindset more than Bradley who had a playoff career-high 25 points by halftime.

He continued to be a problem for the Wizards at both ends of the floor, but he wasn’t alone.

Jae Crowder had a nice first half with 14 points, but was even more valuable helping out on the boards. Crowder was trending towards a double-double before finishing with 18 points and eight rebounds.

Teammate Al Horford was giving the Wizards the business in several categories, finishing with 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds. He became only the third Celtics player (Paul Pierce and Larry Bird were the others) to tally at least six rebounds, seven or more assists and three or more blocked shots in a playoff game.

Meanwhile, Wall and Bradley Beal led the way for the Wizards with 21 and 16 points, respectively.

The Celtics got off to their best start in this series with a 13-4 run to open the game. Boston would lead by as many as 15 points in the first before settling on a 33-21 lead.

Boston’s control continued throughout the second quarter as they continued to push ahead with their lead peaking at 48-26 after Jae Crowder banked in a 3-pointer.

At the half, Boston had a comfortable 67-51 lead.

Smart out of Celtics' Game 6 starting lineup, Ojeleye in

Smart out of Celtics' Game 6 starting lineup, Ojeleye in

MILWAUKEE— Brad Stevens is not averse to shaking up the Boston Celtics starting lineup, regardless of where a playoff series may stand.

And as eager as it may be for some to see Marcus Smart roaming the floor with the first unit in tonight’s close-out game against Milwaukee, both Smart and Stevens shot the idea down quickly.

“We haven’t talked about (me starting),” said Smart, who returned to the lineup for Game 5 following a right thumb injury that sidelined him for almost six weeks. “We actually like our starting lineup.”

Boston inserted rookie Semi Ojeleye into the starting lineup for Boston’s 92-87 Game 5 win, in place of Aron Baynes.

“Semi Ojeleye has been doing a great job on Giannis (Antetokounmpo). He matches up really well,” Smart said. “When you got somebody his size, his determination, that’s good for us. We like our matchups, the way we are to starting off the game and me coming off, bringing that energy off the bench.”

Stevens was more succinct when asked if he was considering inserting Smart into the starting lineup.

“No,” Stevens said.

While there is no mistaking the huge impact that Smart’s return for Game 5 had after missing almost six weeks with a right thumb injury, Stevens usually makes changes when there’s an area in which the Celtics need to address immediately.

In the first round of the playoffs last season against Chicago, Boston needed a jolt offensively with the first unit. 

In came Gerald Green who helped Boston win four straight over the Bulls after falling behind 2-0 in the series. 

Boston, up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, are in a much different place right now.

They come into tonight’s Game 6 matchup coming off their best defensive performance of this series.

And while Smart played a major role in that happening, Boston’s Game 5 win was a victory fueled by an across-the-board defensive effort.

Smart’s impact will be felt whether he’s starting or not.

Plus, inserting him at this point for Ojeleye or Terry Rozier, is a risk that based on where this series is and how Boston is playing, isn’t worth taking.

Rozier hasn’t been nearly as good on the road in this series as he has been at the TD Garden.

But having him in the starting lineup keeps the Bucks more honest defensively, well aware that Rozier is a better shooter and scorer than Smart.

Plus, benching Rozier at this point in the series would be a major blow to his growing confidence which is part of why he has had more strong games in his role as a starter for Kyrie Irving (left knee recovery), than weak ones.

One of the keys for Boston will be to get off to a better start, something that Smart can impact either as a starter or getting the call early off the bench.

In Boston’s Game 3 loss, Milwaukee began the game with a 16-6 run. And in Game 4, the Bucks closed out the first quarter with a 19-5 run before holding on for a two-point win.

Ultimately, Game 6 will be determined by which team does the better job down the stretch.

And for the Celtics, that usually involves Smart being on the floor.


Ojeleye gets chance to limit Giannis again in Game 6

Ojeleye gets chance to limit Giannis again in Game 6

MILWAUKEE – No matter how detailed you may want to get in dissecting how to beat the Milwaukee Bucks, it always comes back to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

A 7-foot playmaker who covers ground like a world class long jumper with pogo stick-like leaping ability, Antetokounmpo is a living, breathing mismatch the moment he steps on to the floor.

But he is human, something the Boston Celtics reminded us of in their 92-87 Game 5 win in which Antetokounmpo came one assist shy of a triple-double but only took 10 shots from the field.

“I had open shots but they weren’t my shots,” Antetokounmpo said after the Game 5 loss. “My teammates did a great job finding me … come Game 6 I gotta be more aggressive, make more plays.”

Boston’s Semi Ojeleye was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 5 and will likely stay there for tonight’s close-out game.

His role is to give Antetokounmpo a different look defensively in addition to a more versatile defender who matches up better on pick-and-roll switches than Aron Baynes has in this series.

In Game 5, mission accomplished.

Ojeleye discussed the challenges one faces when tasked with defending Antetokounmpo.

“His aggressive mindset,” Ojeleye said. “Every play, every possession, transition, he’s always looking to attack. You have to be aware of that at all times and just be ready. If he sees you relaxed, he’s going to try and take advantage of that.”

And while Ojeleye will be the first to admit that defending Antetokounmpo is a team effort and not the task of any one individual, it’s clear that he’s as good a Celtic as there is when it comes to defending Antetokounmpo. 

 “Giannis is a really hard guy to guard,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Semi has great lateral athleticism and obviously as strong as anybody in the league when he gets hit on a drive, and Giannis brings as much force on the drive as anybody in the league. He’s a hard guy to guard and he’s trying to make it as difficult as possible.”

According to NBA.com, Ojeleye has defended Antetokounmpo for 73 possessions, 40 of which came in Game 5.

Antetokounmpo has scored 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting against Ojeleye.

And in Game 5, Antetokounmpo scored seven points on 3-for-5 shooting when defended by Ojeleye.

Upon first glance, those numbers aren’t all that impressive.

But a slightly deeper dive reveals that Ojeleye defended Antetokounmpo on 40 possessions.

That means Antetokounmpo took a shot with Ojeleye defending, once every eight possessions the two were on the floor at the same time.

As Ojeleye mentioned, defending Antetokounmpo is not a one-man job. 

It is a team effort, but it’s clear thus far that Boston’s best shot at minimizing Antetokounmpo’s impact begins with Ojeleye as the team’s primary defender. 

“It’s big-time what Semi can do,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris. “We all know he can defend well. He’s finally getting a chance on one of the biggest levels and he’s coming through.”