Every playoff game is crucial, but the finality of Game 7 will hit most of the Wizards in a hostile environment tonight at TD Garden. Ian Mahinmi knows what it's like when he was with the Indiana Pacers, and he was a vital piece off the bench for the Dallas Mavericks 2011 NBA championship team that upset the Miami Heat.
That was Game 6 of the Finals when he was in Dallas, but that crucial victory came on the road. The Wizards are tasked with having to win at a venue where they've only found creative ways to lose in the last few years.
“Game 7s are fun," said Mahinmi, who was the starting center for the Pacers in a Game 7 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the first round last year, a reserve in 2014 when the Pacers beat the Atlanta Hawks in a first-round Game 7 and in a Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the 2013 conference finals.
"They’re easier to prepare for because it’s kind of you have to go out there and give it everything you have. It’s plain and simple. There is no, ‘I’m going to save this for the fourth quarter,' because if you lose, you go home. Mentally, you just relax and go out there and do what you’ve been doing all year. It’s kind of a privilege to get to that point where one game is going to decide your whole season, basically. I’m going to tell those guys, ‘It’s nothing to overthink. Just go out there and play hard.’ We’ve been playing hard. More of the same.”
Mahinmi's role has been minor, but the 6-11 center's presence is big. That he was able to get back on the court after a left calf strain ended his regular season a game early is an accomplishment itself. Mahinmi missed the first-round triumph over the Hawks in six games and remained on the shelf for two games when this series with the Celtics began.
While his production hasn't been eye-popping (3.5 points, 2.8 rebounds), just having another big body on the floor for 13 minutes per game to give Marcin Gortat a breather has helped. And it has kept Markieff Morris, who has a tendency to pick up quick fouls, from getting into trouble since he doesn't have to play as much as the backup five.
Jason Smith's time, however, has been cut which was the case in the regular season when Mahinmi missed 51 games after procedures on both knees.
When Mahinmi was in Indiana as the No. 1 seed in the East, they met the Wizards in the semifinals and were pushed to six games by the then-No. 5 seed. John Wall and Bradley Beal were first-timers in the postseason, and Indiana simply loaded up the paint to prevent drives to the basket and forced shooters to beat them.
Other than Beal, who was being blanketed by an elite defender in Paul George, the Wizards were short-handed. Otto Porter was a rookie. Wall wasn't enough off a threat from range and although Trevor Ariza was a 40% three-point shooter he couldn't put the ball on the floor or create for others. When the Pacers ran him off the line, the Wizards' offense was out of options.
The Wizards never scored more than 102 points in any of the games. In fact, they were held to 63 in a brutal Game 3 defeat and 82 and 80 points as well.
That's no longer an issue for Washington which has a more diversified offense with a third scorer and a potential fourth one in Porter and Morris. And both can spread the floor with their three-point shot and have Bojan Bogdanovic coming off the bench to add another weapon.
Though as a team they haven't shot the ball well from three-point range which had been a strength all season, the Wizards have scored 111, 119, 116 and 121 vs. Boston.
Beal is coming off a 33-point explosion in a 92-91 win over the Celtics to force Game 7, and that included a momentum-changing three with his team down by five with 94 seconds left. Wall hasn't always shot the ball well to start games but he has finished strong most of the time, and no shot was bigger than his game-winning three-pointer at the end.
“Those guys are not babies anymore. They're closers. They're proven closers," Mahinmi said. "You could tell, at the end of the game, there is no hesitation from none of those two guys. Bradley came up and shot that three with full confidence like the whole entire stadium knew it was going in. And then he went right back at it, drove, floater. All those shots were no hesitation and you can tell from the bench, from being on the floor, those guys are now calm when it comes down to taking last shots and game-winning shots.”