WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards lost to the Boston Celtics 116-87 on Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena. Here are five observations from what went down...
Veteran leaders on the Wizards have lamented the team's lack of consistency, to where they seemingly take one step back every time they take a step forward. Lately, they have taken more than one step in the wrong direction.
On Sunday, they were demolished by the Celtics and have now lost three straight games. Those three games have all come against teams in the Eastern Conference playoff/play-in picture (also the Nets and Raptors), but they have also been at home and right when the Wizards finally got healthy for the first time all season.
Sure, it may take some time before the Wizards to establish their rotation and some chemistry. But also, they have everyone available now so there isn't much of an excuse.
The Wizards even got their head coach back for this one, as Wes Unseld Jr. returned from missing four games due to health and safety protocols.
Unseld Jr. returned just in time for the Wizards to suffer their worst loss of the season, by 29 points. Their 87 points scored also tied a season-low.
The Wizards have now lost four of their last five games and sit below .500 at 23-24.
Tatum was TOUGH
The Wizards have a Jayson Tatum problem. He's one of the NBA's best scorers, but lately has somehow taken it to an entirely different level when he plays the Wizards. Tatum had 50 points against the Wizards in the play-in tournament in May and on Sunday was just as dominant. He had 51 points, including 31 in the first half alone. It was a remarkable display of scoring, particularly from three-point range. Tatum was on fire from deep, shooting 9-for-14 (64.3%). The nine threes were a career-high.
Tatum is not just a good player, he's a great one, so only so much can be made of a big scoring night from him. When he really gets in a groove, he's legitimately unstoppable. But given two of these games have happened against the Wizards in a short period of time, it's noteworthy at a minimum for two reasons. One is the prospect the teams will face each other in the play-in tournament and the other is that it doesn't say much for the Wizards' wing defense, which they prioritized upgrading in the offseason. He cooked them last year and he cooked them again, even with Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and an improved Deni Avdija guarding him.
The last time these teams played in D.C., the Celtics missed their first 20 attempts from three-point range and went 0-for-15 in the first half. This game was a much different story, as Boston got hot from deep early, hitting 8-of-14 in the first quarter. They got to halftime having made 12-of-23 from the perimeter, good for 52.2%. Tatum led the way, but others got involved. Jaylen Brown (18 points) made four threes and Marcus Smart (11 points) made two of them.
It was an unusual occurrence for the Wizards' defense. While they have not had a good defense overall this season, Washington have remained good at locking down the three-point arc. They allow the fewest threes of any team (10.7/g) on the second-fewest attempts (31.0/g). Boston was able to break through that in a big way and make 19 threes for the game, the most the Wizards have surrendered this season. The Celtics shot 48.7% from long range.
Gafford disappeared again
It's a bit strange what's going on with Daniel Gafford. I wrote yesterday how he had seen his minutes dramatically decreased, and how he wasn't playing in fourth quarters at all. That trend continued on Sunday, as Gafford played only 11 minutes and was not out there for the any part of the fourth. Gafford didn't exactly light it up in this one, with two points and one rebound. But regardless, it remains confusing why he he is taking a backseat as the third center in their three-center rotation.
Granted, Montrezl Harrell only played seven minutes in this game. Only Thomas Bryant, who played 22 minutes, got extended run. That may have been about matchups more than anything, as the Wizards opted to go small. Still, how Gafford has gone from being annointed as the starter and getting a contract extension to where he is now in just a few months is a bit of a mystery. Conspiracy theorists out there may say it's a matter of showcasing other guys before the trade deadline, but I'm not sure I buy that.
Avdija played well
One of the lone bright spots for the Wizards in this game was the play of Avdija, who came through with 13 points in 27 minutes. He shot 6-for-9 and added seven rebounds. Avdija did an excellent job cutting and driving to the rim, as well as running the floor in transition. It was the second time in three games Avdija has reached double-figures.
These three games have followed the win over the Sixers in which he only played two minutes and 44 seconds. He was basically out of the rotation for a night, came back and has responded very well to the decision. Perhaps it motivated him, either way it's a credit to his resolve to step up his game. He also hurt himself in this game on a drive to the rim, but was able to shake it off and even hit a corner three while he was limping up and down the floor, before he could exit and see the trainers.