The Washington Wizards beat the Boston Celtics 116-107 on Wednesday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
What makes the beginning of this Wizards season particularly fun and interesting to watch is that with each game we learn more about a team that was for the most part overhauled in the offseason. They won their first two games against the Raptors and Pacers, then received a beatdown by the Nets. That suggested they were somewhere in between the fringe playoff teams and the very top of the Eastern Conference.
What we saw from them in Boston on Wednesday tracked with that assessment. They went toe-to-toe with a Celtics team that is likely to be good, but in the second tier of the East. The Wizards more than held their own, they won a big game on the road and while missing some key players. More on that in a moment.
The Wizards also won despite Bradley Beal having another rough shooting night, an early-season trend for him. He was held to 17 points, shooting 7-for-25 overall and 0-for-6 from three. He did have 10 rebounds, but remember, they also beat the Pacers without Beal.
All of that means the depth they added in the offseason is working as intended. They have Beal, but don't need him to be the hero like they used to.
The Wizards are now 3-1, their best start to a season since 2017.
Gafford got injured
The Wizards were able to win despite losing starting center Daniel Gafford in the second quarter with a right quad contusion. Gafford banged knees with Celtics forward Jaylen Brown when trying to steal a pass in the open court. He fell down in a heap, writhing in pain and holding his right leg.
Gafford was able to sit up, but then had to be helped to the locker room. It looked scary in the moment, like it could have been something much more serious. A quad contusion could be minor or something that he has to deal with for a while, just look at Russell Westbrook last season. It's probably a safe guess he won't play Thursday in the second night of a back-to-back. But it's not a worst-case scenario which is always possible with leg injuries, so he and the Wizards may have dodged a bullet there.
Harrell was a force
Montrezl Harrell tweeted soon after the Wizards' loss to the Nets on Monday night (in third-person) that his performance was unacceptable and that he needed to be better. He wasn't even that bad against the Nets, with 10 points and seven boards, perfectly acceptable off the bench.
But Harrell came through with his promise with a monster game against the Celtics. He had 25 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, shooting 10-for-13 from the field. Harrell had 17 points in the first half alone, as the Wizards were able to build an early 14-point lead. He dominated the Celtics in the paint just with pure effort, fighting his way through contact to catch difficult entry passes and quickly drop them in the basket.
There were several occasions where Harrell just out-hustled multiple taller players like Robert Williams and Al Horford. He just wanted it more.
Bench showed up
Harrell helped lead a bounceback game for the Wizards' bench overall. After getting thoroughly outdone by Patty Mills and the Nets, they were a strength in this game, outscoring the Celtics' second unit 51-35. At one point, they had a 19-0 advantage in bench scoring.
In addition to Harrell, others got involved. Deni Avdija was a bright spot with eight points and a block. Aaron Holiday got hot late and added nine points. The bench came through despite missing Raul Neto, who was out with a left shoulder contusion.
This game was an interesting test for the Wizards not only because the Celtics figure to be one of the better teams in the East this season, but because it was a good barometer for what they did in the offseason. Tatum helped expose their lack of size and defense at the three position last year, particularly in the play-in tournament when he dropped 50 points in a Celtics win.
The Wizards just had no chance of guarding him that night. But in the offseason they got some help with wing defense by bringing in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma. Despite that, they had Beal guarding Tatum for much of the night. They are good friends and it's possible Beal requested to defend him, but still it was a bit surprising given their new personnel.
The Wizards, though, managed to keep Tatum in check for the most part. He had 23 points and shot 9-for-22 from the field and 1-for-6 from three. The Wizards will take that, for sure.