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Wizards lose Game 7 to Celtics, fall short of Eastern Conference Finals

Wizards lose Game 7 to Celtics, fall short of Eastern Conference Finals

BOSTON – When the Wizards look back on their semifinal series loss to the Boston Celtics, they’ll think about giving away double-digit leads in the first two road games just as much as Monday’s 115-105 loss in Game 7 at TD Garden.

Despite a left ankle injury to Markieff Morris in Game 1, Ian Mahinmi’s absence until Game 3, Kelly Oubre’s and Brandon Jennings’ ejections and an overflowing of bad blood during the regular season, victory was theirs to be had until Isaiah Thomas (29 points, 12 assists) and Kelly Olynyk – yes, Olynyk (26 points) -- came alive to boost Boston and send their team to the conference finals vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers that starts Wednesday.

Olynyk was a factor with 12 points after three quarters, but he knocked down open looks, drives and on post-ups on Washington.

The Wizards never led in the series, falling down 2-0 before holding off elimination in Game 6 until they succumbed. It would’ve been their first conference final since 1979 but the No. 4 seed in the East made their deepest progress in the postseason in 38 years regardless.

Bradley Beal (38 points) had his best game of the series and almost single-handedly erased a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter. John Wall (18 points, 11 assists), who made the game-winner on a three-pointer on Friday, steadied them through a bad start when they trailed 10-2 to lead at halftime 55-53. They went up 70-64 with 6:52 left in the third quarter but couldn’t sustain it.

When the offense bogged down with overdribbling and bad pass turnovers, including by Beal during a 9-2 run for Boston to begin the fourth quarter, what had been a nervous sellout crowd exploded to carry them to the finish line. Al Horford (15 points, six rebounds), Jae Crowder (14 points, five rebounds) were enough along with spurts off the bench from Marcus Smart (13 points) and Jaylen Brown (nine points).

Boston has been a problem matchup for the Wizards for several years, whether it was Thomas or Phil Pressey running the point and breaking their will time after time. Monday wasn’t any different.

[RELATED: Bryce Harper said he wants to be like John Wall]

They swept the Wizards 4-0 in the 2015-16 season which included blowouts by 20, 33 and 25 points. This season, Boston won 117-108 and 110-102 at TD Garden in a regular-seasons series that tied at 2.

There was Wall’s flagrant foul ejection on Smart and a post-game confrontation between Wall and Crowder in the regular season that led to both players being fined by the league. Oubre had to serve a one-game suspension after a confrontation with Olynyk.

Despite the Celtics finishing with four more wins, the Wizards truly felt they had the better personnel and that coach Scott Brooks was at least Brad Stevens’ equal.

Wall is bigger and better than Thomas in every category on which point guards today are judged except shooting threes. And when the Wizards made their run they went at Thomas successfully to compromise Boston’s defense. They had to help and the ball movement found open shooters or Thomas was just beaten.

Beal hadn’t been the 40% three-point shooter in the playoffs that he was most of the season, but he shot 5-for-10 from long range in the loss

Morris forces the Celtics to go away from Amir Johnson trying to defend him. Instead they crossmatch Horford which gives Gortat a more favorable and smaller opponent on him in Johnson. That’s why the Wizards were plus-35 rebounding in their three wins entering Monday. That was still pronounced (43-31) but the Celtics overcame it.

Marcin Gortat was out of sync all night. He didn’t convert his first field goal until midway through the fourth quarter in transition. He couldn’t make his size work for him and that led to four turnovers as he failed to post up the likes of Brown.

Whether or not Porter will command $100 million as a restricted free agent this summer, he remains an ultimate team player. He went scoreless in Game 6 but was the spark early that kept the Wizards viable when it could’ve gotten ugly early. He had 12 points and seven rebounds by halftime.

If Brooks needs defense on small guards and wants to give the opponent a different look, he can go to the 6-8 Porter, or the 6-7 Oubre and his 7-2 wingspan, or 6-7 rookie Tomas Satoransky who’ll get spot duty. But Oubre and Satoransky didn’t play a role Monday as Brooks tightened his rotation.

If Gortat isn’t a good matchup or having a good outing, there’s 6-11 Ian Mahinmi who is an athletic rim protector and can cover pick-and-roll. But even he wasn’t much help. He picked up four fouls in his first seven minutes.

They had all of these advantages on the top seed and couldn’t make it work.

After all, what did Boston have outside of Thomas? Mostly, one-dimensional role players but they played with a grit on their home floor that the Wizards couldn’t crack.

Stevens did a masterful job with molding what he has into a 53-win team that got this far.

Horford is a big part of that success. In his first season after spending nine years with the Atlanta Hawks, he chose the Celtics over the Wizards in free agency last summer. Crowder’s recruiting pitch to him was to stay away from Washington. “You're a winner,” Crowder said of his conversation with the big man. “That's what Boston's all about — winning. You'll fit right in.”

This second round series proved him correct, but this letdown for the Wizards won’t take away a season that was a significant surprise.

No one thought they’d win 49 games, or be a serious threat to get this deep when they began 2-8.

Of course, Wall and Beal won’t be consoled by this.

“It’s about doing the little things and doing them every time down the court and keeping it simple,” Brooks said before tipoff. “We’ve got 48 minutes to prove we’re the better team.”

The Celtics wore all-black attire to Game 6 at Verizon Center to make a statement that it was going to be the burial of their nemesis.

It just took them one game longer to make good on it.  

[RELATED: Garrett Temple on Wall and Beal's development]

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A comprehensive timeline of Isaiah Thomas' injury history

A comprehensive timeline of Isaiah Thomas' injury history

Isaiah Thomas is out for six to eight weeks after undergoing successful surgery on his radial collateral ligament in his left thumb Wednesday.

His absence will leave the Wizards perilously thin at point guard heading into the season.

“This was an unfortunate setback for Isaiah, but with his resolve and the top care he will receive from our medical team, we expect him to make a full recovery,” Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said in a release. “In the meantime, he will continue to mentor our young guards and have a positive impact on the team as we start training camp.”

Thomas' thumb issue is the latest in a long line of injuries that have caused him to miss time during his nine-year NBA career.

Here's a list of injuries that Isaiah Thomas has sustained during his playing career:

April 2013 — A quadriceps contusion kept Thomas out for 10 games, the first time in his career he was sidelined with an injury.

Aug. 14, 2014 — Thomas underwent arthroscopic wrist surgery during the offseason to fix an issue he'd been dealing with since the prior season.

Nov. - Dec. 2014 — Thomas sprained his ankle while with the Phoenix Suns. The Suns went 3-5 in his absence.

March 9, 2015 — Thomas, after moving to the Celtics, missed eight games with a lower back injury. Boston went 5-3 while Thomas was sidelined. 

Dec. 2016 — In the next season, still with the Celtics, a groin strain kept Thomas out for four games.

March 16, 2017 — Later that same season, a knee bruise sidelined Thomas for two more games.

May 4, 2017 — During the playoffs, Thomas had his tooth knocked out in the middle of a game. He didn't miss any time, but it's impossible to make this list without including that incident.

May 20, 2017 — Two weeks later, a hip injury kept him out for the rest of the Celtics' playoff run.

Sept. 7, 2017 — After being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Cavs' medical staff had questions about the health of Thomas' hip. To complete the deal, the Celtics sent another second-round draft pick via the Miami Heat to the Cavaliers. Lingering hip issues would keep Thomas out until Jan. 6, 2018.

March 29, 2018 — Thomas was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in early February, only to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right hip at the end of March. With a projected four-month recovery time, he was done for the season.

Sept. 18, 2019 — Thomas finished the 2018 season with the Denver Nuggets and signed with the Wizards in July of 2019. On Sept. 16, he injured his left thumb in team workouts. On Sept. 18, the team announced he'd undergone successful surgery and would be out for six to eight weeks.

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Isaiah Thomas injury puts Wizards in tenuous spot at point guard position

Isaiah Thomas injury puts Wizards in tenuous spot at point guard position

The Wizards were already walking a tightrope with their point guard situation when news broke Wednesday that Isaiah Thomas will miss the next six-to-eight weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a ligament in his left thumb. Now with Thomas out, they are perilously thin at an important position.

Thomas will miss all of training camp, the preseason and possibly several weeks of the regular season. That leaves Ish Smith as the de facto starter with a host of non-ideal options behind him.

The No. 2 point guard for now will be left for undrafted rookie Justin Robinson, 19-year-old Isaac Bonga or someone like Troy Brown Jr. or Jordan McRae, both of whom the Wizards would prefer to see play other roles. Bradley Beal will also see time on the ball, according to someone familiar with their plans.

This is all in the context of John Wall's ruptured Achilles surgery that could keep him sidelined for all of the 2019-20 season. With Wall out for several months at a minimum, the Wizards have major questions at his position.

The positive news, if you're looking for some, is that Thomas didn't reinjure his hip. This is a new injury, albeit one to his shooting hand. It is also something that likely won't affect them far into the regular season. 

Thomas was also not going to play a ton in the preseason. The Wizards had plans to limit his minutes as a veteran with a detailed injury history.

But with their current point guard crop, they can ill-afford any injuries at all. They were already taking a risk on Thomas after he played only 12 games last season.

It's worth noting the Wizards opted to go with Smith and Thomas in the offseason instead of re-signing point guard Tomas Satoransky, who left in free agency for the Chicago Bulls. They instead spent that money on Smith and Thomas.

Despite their current issues at point guard, the Wizards do not have plans to bring in significant reinforcements, according to a source. They did, though, recently add Chris Chiozza as a camp invite, NBC Sports Washington was told. He spent time with the Wizards and Rockets last season.

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