WASHINGTON — It was arguably the most inspired stretch of basketball the Wizards have played in a generation.
For the final 11 minutes of the third quarter in Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinal Game 4 at Verizon Center, Washington tore apart the Boston Celtics on the way to a 121-102 win.
The victory evened the best-of-seven series 2-2 heading back to Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday. But it was the ease with which the Wizards demolished the Celtics that led to a sudden re-evaluation of this series: Boston finished with the best record in the conference during the regular season. Washington might be the better team.
“This is no time to be shook,” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas insisted.
But his teammates were in the third quarter as a 53-48 lead vanished in the time it takes Wizards point guard John Wall to get from one end of the court to the other. Teammate Bradley Beal shadowed Thomas everywhere he went. A player who had 15 points early in the second quarter – and scored 53 in Game 2 – finished with just 19. Boston committed nine turnovers in the third quarter alone. Thomas was responsible for five of them. It was a recipe for disaster.
“If you turn the ball over against these guys, you’d prefer to drop-kick it into the stands so at least you can set your defense,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens deadpanned.
Boston might have been better off. By the time the carnage ended, the Wizards had gone on a 26-0 run. An Otto Porter layup – yes, after a Thomas turnover – capped it at the five-minute mark. In a span of 5:41 of basketball, Washington turned a 53-48 deficit into a 74-53 lead as a delirious home crowd savored every basket. At one point in the fourth quarter the Wizards led by 25.
“If I have [seen a 26-0 run], I can’t remember it,” Celtics guard Terry Rozier said.
Thomas went into lobbying mode in his post-game comments. He insisted that he was knocked down to the floor “five or six times” in the third quarter alone, but that referees weren’t calling that contact. Thomas hopes some of that gamesmanship carries over into Game 5 at TD Garden.
It’s a smart ploy and in a vacuum, maybe Boston shakes it off as just a bad quarter of basketball. But this is a team that was down 16-0 at home in Game 1 before rallying to win by double digits. And the Celtics allowed a 22-0 run in Game 3 at Verizon Center. They are even in the series – but somehow it doesn’t feel like it.
“We feel like we’re in control,” Wall said. “We have the momentum coming home and winning our two games. We feel like we can win there. We know we can.”
The last time an NBA team had a pair of 20-point runs during one postseason was the 2010-11 San Antonio Spurs. There’s little correlation to success with that stat. Those Spurs lost in the first round in six games despite going 61-21 in the regular season.
But it still feels good and provides Washington confidence it can find a way to steal a game in Boston. The Wizards are 21-5 at home since Jan. 1 and are now 4-0 at Verizon Center against the Celtics this season. Afterward, coach Scott Brooks called the third quarter his team’s best period of the season. Beal pondered that statement for a moment.
“That’s a fair assessment,” Beal said. “Because we were flying…It’s our defense. That’s why we’re able to get out in transition and get open shots, get open layups. We were just having fun.”
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