Defenses in the NBA are about a system. They change pending the opponent in an 82-game season. The same goes for a seven-game playoff series. Just because Player A scores 53 points doesn't mean Player B opposite of him allowed that.
Usually, it's a system fail. In the last two games of their series with the Boston Celtics, the Wizards have succeeded in bottling up Isaiah Thomas, who had 53 in an epic comeback overtime win in Game 2, and holding him to less than 20 points for the second time in a row.
A lot of it was 1 vs. 1 defense that funneled the 5-9 point guard into the eye of the storm, closing off the rim and forcing him to either shoot over 6-11 Marcin Gortat, 6-10 Markieff Morris and try to turn the corner on handoffs and screens vs. 6-4 Bradley Beal who outweighs him by 25 points, too.
Thomas only got up eight shots in a 27-point loss in Game 3. He only took 14 in a 19-point loss in Game 4.
This is how the Wizards are getting these results, and that included taking Thomas to task on the other end by making him defend. Gone are the coverages 2 vs. 2 coverages in pick-and-rolls where they allow him to get into the paint and pull up to shoot over the big and hoping he misses. No more going under on screens and handoffs. And they're adding an extra body in the mix and taking away his space to operate:
Beal's pressure stops the ball near half-court. Thomas doesn't get a full head of steam to run at the defense. The resistances keeps the ball out of the operational zone and the Wizards can live with Marcus Smart running the offense instead while Avery Bradley takes the shot.
Beal locks and trails off the screen to deny the pull-up three but Gortat also denies Thomas from getting to his strong hand. He prefers to drive left and finish with his left at the rim. Notice how Thomas is forced to stay on his right hand but as he jumps he's so left-hand dominant that he pulls the ball back into the big rather than using his right hand to protect the ball. Gortat wisely doesn't even try to block the shot which could illicit a whistle. He lives with the result that's a bad miss.
Beal doesn't accept the screen from Smart. He fights over the first pindown and Otto Porter comes to help with containment while keeping Marcus Smart in his sights. When the ball is reversed, Porter makes a late, hard closeout of Smart, who puts the ball on the floor, which isn't his strength, and turns it over.
Despite Thomas' claims that he was being held constantly -- similar to Beal after Games 1 and 2 when Smart, Bradley and Jaylen Brown were all over him -- he wasn't being stopped from moving off the ball. It's just that refs are less likely to call fouls off the ball if the grabs aren't prolonged. Beal keeps his hands on Thomas so he never loses connectivity. He still gets the ball but when Thomas gets in the paint he's surrounded by three bodies. That forces the ball out of the danger zone and when Gortat switches out to prevent the three-point look by Thomas the Celtics get confused and end up with a 24-second shot clock violation instead.
Beal is into the ball yet again. The deflection throws off Boston's timing. When Amir Johnson comes up to screen, the spacing is gone. The Celtics need his size but he doesn't spread the defense. The Wizards can trap the ball aggressively off him in the screen-and-roll action because the chances of him getting the ball and finishing aren't good.
Earlier in the series, Gortat was allowing Thomas to split the trap which left the defense exposed in the middle. Porter recovers to force the ball out of Thomas' hands, and when he gets it back and into the paint, Morris is standing in between him and the rim because, again, Johnson, is a liability. And Morris' length prevents the pass from getting through anyway.
Thomas initiates the contact and falls. Beal doesn't trip him. Beal doesn't reach. This isn't a foul. Beal doesn't play for steals or blocks. He plays for position, which makes him a likely better option on Thomas than Wall or Kelly Oubre.
This play was developing so slowly thanks to the pressure defense and Gortat's containment, Porter came from under the basket to jump the passing lane. Thomas has trouble playing through contact and length.
On the other end, this is all day for Beal as long as he makes the right read. Post and repost until he gets better position. If Al Horford commits too soon to help, it's an easy pass back in the two-man game with Morris for a wide-open three.