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After neutralizing Isaiah Thomas, Wizards feel in control as series shifts to Boston

After neutralizing Isaiah Thomas, Wizards feel in control as series shifts to Boston

The simple truth to the Wizards' series with the Boston Celtics is they have the more talented personnel, and the superior size. For the second game in a row, they dictated to Isaiah Thomas how it was going to be played and it resulted in a 2-2 tie in the East semifinals on Sunday. 

"We feel like we're in control," said Wizards point guard John Wall, who keyed a 26-0 third-quarter run en route to a 121-102 victory at Verizon Center. "We have the momentum, coming home and winning our two games. We feel like we can win there. We know we can. We just have to take better care of those leads we get, just play smart basketball down the stretch. When you're on the road, you can't have those turnovers."

The Celtics had plenty in the third -- five alone from Thomas -- that produced 21 points for what turned into a 42-point quarter for Washington.

Since Thomas went for 53 points in a Game 2 comeback at TD Garden to beat the Wizards in overtime, he has been held to less than 20 points in two consecutive games. 

Each team has held serve on their home court in the 2-2 regular-season series and now in the playoffs. As the No. 1 seed, the Celtics have home-court advantage so for the No. 4 seed Wizards to succeed they have to win there. They blew a 17-point lead in Game 1 before squandering a 13-point edge in Game 2. 

But they seem to have a belief that they can win in Boston that they haven't had until now. This time it was the Celtics who lost a 12-point first-half lead to find themselves tied at 48 at the break. Then the seperation was created.

"It was all our defense. That's all it was," said Bradley Beal, who had a game-high 29 points on 11-for-16 shooting and spent a lot of time on the 5-9 Thomas. "We realized at halftime that we weren't defending the way we were capable of. ... We just came out in the third quarter with a better mind-set that everything was going to stem from the defensive end. We were able to force a lot of turnovers. On top of that, we converted."

[RELATED: Former NBA tough guy Stephen Jackson admires Wizards]

They also did it without Kelly Oubre, the 6-7 defensive stopper who was suspended after a Game 3 altercation with Kelly Olynyk. 

Thomas had no answers. He wasn't rewarded for whistles by jumping into Marcin Gortat when going at the rim. Instead, the Wizards made a concerted effort to not reach in and make him finish over their size.

"They were very physical. The refs were allowing them to hold and grab and do all those things," Thomas said. " Especially in that third quarter, I may have hit the ground five or six times."

Thomas had six turnovers for the game. When Marcus Smart was tasked to run the offense with him out of the game, he isn't that capable. Al Horford doesn't have a chance of staying in front of Wall on the pick-and-roll when he's the big on help, but when it's Amir Johnson or Olynyk it's a far greater mismatch. None of the three has the foot speed, lateral movement or shot-blocking to discourage Wall. 

If Olynyk isn't knocking down three-point shots (0-for-4), he's a major liability. He stands 7-0 and had zero rebounds in 23 minutes. 

Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley each shot 2-for-9. Smart was 2-for-7. After getting up just eight shots in a 27-point loss in Game 3, Thomas only got off 14. 

Removing him from the equation is the linchipin to all the good things that happened Sunday. 

"We just have to corral him," said Markieff Morris, another matchup problem for Boston because he's too versatile for Amir Johnson to cover and at 6-10 too big for Gerald Green or Smart when they go to small ball. "He's a small guy so at the end of the day if you've got three players around you, how can you make the pass? How can you make the shot? It's just basically what we've been doing and just trying to get the ball out of his hands. Hopefully the other guys miss shots like they've been doing."

[RELATED: Former Wizard says Wall is second best player in East]

The Wizards kept three defenders in tune to Thomas after the first quarter when he knocked down all three of his three-point looks. The primary defender, usually Beal or Wall, locked and trailed from behind on screens and handoffs and a frontline player pinched in to funnel him into the big in the middle that typically was Gortat. 

"Our goal is to just take him out the  game," said Beal, who drew most of the second-half assignments on Thomas when he was held to two points. "I just want to come in and be physical with him."

Thomas' off-balance rainbows didn't hit the mark. He was 2-for-8 inside the arc and didn't attempt a free throw as the Wizards' bigs were determined to not pick up cheap reach-ins. By keeping their hands up rather than outward, they didn't get whistles going against them.

Instead, it was Crowder and Smart in foul trouble. Thomas had four fouls as he was exploited again on post-ups trying to defend anyone bigger than him. The liability that he's posing on the defensive end gets bigger with each passing game.

"They were locked into him the whole game," Stevens said of Washington's defense on Thomas. "They did a little bit more switching. Gortat ended up on Isaiah more than a couple of occasions."

The lack of size everywhere caught up to Boston at least in these two road games. They're minus-26 rebounding after being manhandled 45-31 Sunday. They were just minus-three in the two wins at home. 

Neither one of these teams has shown an ability to win on the road against the other but at least the Wizards have something to build on. They've come closer to winning at TD Garden than the Celtics have come to winning at Verizon Center. 

"We know that we have the ability to win there," Wall said of Boston. "We have to bring the same defensive intensity that we had the two games that we had here because when we played there we didn't play great defense and we still had a chance to win those games."

[RELATED: Morris has the quote of the year on Wizards blowing out Celtics]

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It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

It's hard to tell after three games how the Wizards and Pacers would match up in the playoffs

The Wizards crossed off an important goal on Saturday night by beating the Indiana Pacers and therefore securing the season series. If the teams tie with the same regular season record, the Wizards will get the higher playoff seed. As of today, that would mean home court advantage in the first round.

Though the Wizards have beaten the Pacers in two of their three matchups this season, we only know so much about how they would match up in the playoffs. The first game between them didn't feature Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo and John Wall didn't play in any of the three games. The Pacers were without both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis on Saturday night.

Given the Pacers underwent so much change over the summer, there is no real data to go off of from before this season. They are a completely different team with Oladipo leading the way and Paul George now in Oklahoma City.


There are reasons to believe, however, that the Wizards would fare well against the Pacers over the course of a seven-game series. For one, they figured out how to slow Oladipo and his teammate Bojan Bogdanovic on Saturday night. Both had killed the Wizards in previous matchups.

Oladipo was held to 18 points, over five points below his season average of 23.5. He had four turnovers, shot 7-for-16 (43.7%) and finished a -18 in a game the Pacers lost by seven.

The Wizards had some success with Tomas Satoransky guarding Oladipo. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 with long arms. He was able to recover on several occasions to alter Oladipo's shots.

Satoransky and Bradley Beal also did a good job keeping pace with Oladipo on the fastbreak. The Pacers had only four fastbreak points in the game. Oladipo is especially dangerous in the open court.

“We just made sure that we were aggressive with him and made sure he saw a lot of bodies in the paint," Beal said. "The last game, he got a lot of easy ones in transition. We just made sure that we got back on the shot, loaded to the ball and forced the other guys to attack.”

For Bogdanovic, it was about limiting open shots from the perimeter. Bogdanovic had 11 points, three below his season average and had four turnovers. Beal and Otto Porter stripped Bogdanovic for steals and Marcin Gortat took a charge on one play in the third quarter.


But it was all about taking away the outside shot. Bogdanovic only hit one shot in the first half and it was a three. The only reason he got it off is because Kelly Oubre, Jr. lost his balance backing up. That gave Bogdanovic the window he needed. Otherwise, Oubre helped frustrate the former Wizards small forward. So did Gortat and Ian Mahinmi, who did a good job covering their teammates off screens.

The Pacers are an average offensive team, ranking 16th in points per game and 14th in offensive rating. They are better defensively, ranking ninth-best in opponents points per game and 12th in defensive efficiency.

If the Wizards can limit Oladipo and Bogdanovic, the Pacers' two leading scorers, they should have a good shot at beating the Pacers in the playoffs. Beyond them, the Pacers are thin in the scoring department. Turner only averages 13.6 points and no one else beyond him can consistently make an opposing defense pay for mistakes. Conversely, several Wizards players have given the Pacers major trouble through three games this season.

Gortat, who had 18 points and eight rebounds on Saturday, has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds on 57.7 percent shooting against Indiana. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who had 16 points in 18 minutes, has averaged 15.5 points and is shooting 50 percent from the field.


In addition to those guys, Markieff Morris, Porter, Mike Scott, Mahinmi and Satoransky are all shooting over 50 percent against the Pacers. Satoransky is shooting 71.4 percent through three games.

The Wizards have the pieces to counter what the Pacers do best. Indiana is seventh in three-point percentage, but the Wizards are the best team in basketball in opponents three-point percentage. The Pacers are built around an All-Star guard, but the Wizards have two All-Star guards. The Pacers have a collection of talented wing players, but so do the Wizards.

"Hypothetically, I do like Indiana," Beal said. "I like how we match up with Indiana and I feel like there is a lot of stuff that we can take advantage of. In a lot of categories, I think we can win them."

Add it all up and the Wizards have every reason to feel confident if they see the Pacers in the posteason. Keep that in mind because they very well could meet up in the spring.

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

Here are five plays or moments from the Wizards' 109-102 win over the Pacers on Saturday night that are worth revisiting... 

1. The Wizards took care of business against the Pacers on Saturday night and in doing so earned an important advantage in the playoff race. They won the season series and therefore own a tiebreaker for playoff seeding and currently that would mean home court advantage in the first round if the playoffs began today.

The Wizards took control early and part of that effort were five first-half assists by Bradley Beal. He ended up with 19 points, but some of his best plays were passes.

On this one, he executed a perfect pick-and-roll with Marcin Gortat:


2. This was another pretty pass to Gortat. Tomas Satoransky, who had 12 points and eight assists, fed Gortat with a nice reach-around pass on a play that featured some impressive ball movement overall:

3. This was a great moment. The Wizards had a member of the military surprise his niece on the court. She literally did not see it coming:


4. These last two plays are dunks by Kelly Oubre, Jr., who finished with 16 points. On this play, he cut through the and threw down with authority:

5. This dunk was set up by a beautiful pass from Ramon Sessions. It traveled about three-quarters of the court and Oubre did the rest:

The Wizards now have three days off before their next game as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. Things are trending positive for the Wizards as the playoff race heats up.

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