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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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5 must-see moments from the Wizards' blowout win over the Cavs, including John Wall owning Collin Sexton

5 must-see moments from the Wizards' blowout win over the Cavs, including John Wall owning Collin Sexton

The Washington Wizards blasted the Cleveland Cavaliers 119-95 on Wednesday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. Wall vs Sexton: This game featured a matchup between one of the sport's most accomplished point guards and one who is just getting his career started. John Wall of the Wizards and Collin Sexton of the Cavs went at it and, not surprisingly, Wall had the edge on the rookie.

The five-time All-Star only scored eight points, but two of them came on a play that made Sexton show his inexperience. Wall zoomed down the court and had Sexton way off balance as he backpedaled towards the rim:

 

In addition to eight points, Wall had nine assists, two steals, and a block. He played only 21 minutes because the Wizards were able to rest their starters late due to the blowout.

2. Beal's big dunk: Bradley Beal put up some impressive numbers for a guy who only played 28 minutes. He posted 20 points with three assists, three rebounds, and three steals. He also hit his 900th career three-pointer.

This was his best play, a two-handed slam that Jordan Clarkson wanted no part of:

Speaking of Clarkson, what the heck was this, man?

3. Oubre's block: Kelly Oubre Jr. only shot 3-for-11, but did a lot of other things to help the Wizards win. He pulled in seven rebounds, had a steal and a block.

His block was nasty:

4. Mahinmi's first three: This was the most memorable moment of the night. Ian Mahinmi, playing in his 11th season and his 556th regular season, knocked down his first career three-pointer.

As we learned afterward, Wall set it all up. He told Mahinmi to go to the corner and, sure enough, it worked:

5. Beal's and-1: Beal had eight of his 20 points in the third quarter as the Wizards held off the Cavs' final push. This play was a good example of how he was just plain feeling it.

The Cavs had no hope in stopping him get to the rim for an and-1:

The Wizards have now won three straight games. At 5-9, they are only one game out of a playoff spot, which is crazy to think about given how poorly they started off the year.

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Ian Mahinmi's first ever 3-pointer a fun, proud moment for Wizards

Ian Mahinmi's first ever 3-pointer a fun, proud moment for Wizards

Ian Mahinmi is in the middle of his 11th NBA season. He has appeared in 623 total games, including the playoffs. Yet, until Wednesday night, he had never made a single three-point shot in an NBA game that counted.

With just over a minute left in the first half of the Wizards' win over the Cavs, Mahinmi stepped back behind the line in the weakside corner. John Wall drove to the elbow to collapse the defense and fired him a pass. Wide open, Mahinmi rose and released like he had done it many times before.

Technically, he had. Mahinmi has been working on his three-point shot persistently. At the end of every Wizards practice, he can be seen going around the horn popping threes.

In practice, Mahinmi makes long range shots consistently. Head coach Scott Brooks has put the number at around 70 out of 100 on his best days. Mahinmi even made a few this preseason, suggesting it might actually happen in a regular season game this year.

Sure enough, it did.

"It's something I work on. I work on threes and especially from the corners. It's good to see one finally go in," Mahinmi said.

Mahinmi had attempted two threes already this season. One clanged off the side off the backboard. The second rolled in and out of the rim.

Mahimni said the second attempt was actually a designed play to get him a three-point look. On this one, Wall called his number again.

Mahinmi said Wall told him to go to the corner. The team was up 20 points and it was late in the first half. 

The stars had aligned. It just seemed like the right time.

"Obviously, I was looking for it," Mahinmi said. "If the ball comes my way, I'm shooting it."

Brooks has expressed confidence in Mahinmi's outside shooting ability for months now. And he reiterated after Wednesday's game that Mahinmi has the green light.

"I want Ian to shoot threes if he's open," Brooks said. "He practices that every day. We see it go in every day. The league is changing. It's not just a small-ball league for the smalls."

That last point was not lost on others around the Wizards locker room. When Mahinmi entered the league in 2007, centers were expected to camp around the rim. He was asked to block shots and play with his back to the basket. 

In the decade-plus since, new species of big men have flowed into the NBA. Many of them hit threes, leap high above the rim and break down defenders off the dribble.

Mahinmi, though fully-developed at 32 years old, isn't letting that stop him. He has added a three-point shot that opponents have to at least know is possible to go in.

"He's adapted to the game and that's not easy at his position because they try to kick fives out of the league," guard Bradley Beal said.

No one expects Mahinmi to all of a sudden become Dirk Nowitzki and hit threes all the time. It was a small moment that probably won't mean much in the big picture.

Still, it was a reason for him and his teammates to celebrate.

"I'm glad to see him do that," center Dwight Howard said. "I'm so happy for him."

 

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