BOSTON -- The Wizards can feel that they have better talent than the Boston Celtics, but only one team is advancing to the conference finals to face the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"I hate losing," Bradley Beal said after scoring a game-high 38 points in a 115-105 loss Monday, "especially when we feel like we were the better team."
The home team won each game and because the Celtics, as the No. 1 seed, had home-court advantage that proved to be the difference. If the Wizards were clearly better, however, they would've created more sepearation when they led 70-64 in the third quarter only to succumb to a 22-5 run that put it away at TD Garden.
The Wizards played here six times this season and lost all of them.
The checklist going into this season was a long one for coach Scott Brooks. He succeeded in getting John Wall to play like an All-NBA player. He got Beal to play up to his max contract and Otto Porter blossomed into a three-point threat.
Where the Wizards fell short, however, was defense. It was one of the areas that president Ernie Grunfeld emphasized when he hired Brooks last spring after firing Randy Wittman who couldn't find the balance between building a more offensively potent team that remained defensively responsible.
"We just didn't have a great effort, all the way to the end (for) 48 minutes," said Marcin Gortat, the Wizards only starter to finish outside of double figures with six points but a game-high 11 rebounds. "We just didn't defend well at the end of the game. We tried to score a little bit but we just lost our composure and they picked us apart."
Despite the Wizards having a 46-31 edge in rebounding, they were battered in the paint as they were outscored 58-40 by the smaller team that was more physical.
The coverage of the Celtics' backscreening by guards was absent as layups were frequent early on. Kelly Olynyk's 26 points came off a lot of open looks as the pick-and-pop 7-footer made a pair of three-pointers.
A pair of three-pointers to the third quarter broke open a tied scored to give Boston an 85-79 lead. Two minutes into the fourth quarter, the Wizards were down 13 on Isaiah Thomas' three-pointer. The Wizards got it down to 101-97 with 6:10 to play because of Beal's four-point play, but they couldn't get stops.
"We can't have lapses where our defense collapse like that especially in crunch time," Porter said. "End of the third quarter was big for us. I still feel like we were in control of the game."
Towards the end of the regular season, the Wizards went 4-1 on a road trip when they had to come from double-digit deficits to beat the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers. All were sub.-500 teams that couldn't defend well enough to slow down Washington's potent offense.
But as the competition gets better, those defensive lapses become more pronounced. And teams such as the Celtics won't just lay down and let the Wizards have what they want when they want it like the Suns, Kings and Blazers.
They taketh away.