Two Things Wizards Must Do To Win Game 7 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Two Things Wizards Must Do To Win Game 7

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Updated: May 13, 2017

[John Wall celebrates with the crowd after winning Game 6. Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/AP.]

Washington just won the franchise’s biggest game of the last 35 years on the biggest shot of that same time period. But there is no time to savor the victory. The reason Washington’s Game 6 win was so big is that it guaranteed that the Wizards will play an even bigger game Monday night in Boston. Scott Brooks called it the two most exciting words in playoff basketball: Game 7.

Here are two things Washington needs to do to continue playing big games in May:

Stop Boston’s Cherry-Picking.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens needed to make an adjustment in Game 5. His team had been demolished in two straight games in Washington and his star player was having difficulty generating easy baskets against the Wizards’ double and triple teams.

So, he turned to one of the most annoying tactics in pick-up basketball: cherry-picking. Instead of boxing out or waiting around to see if a teammate secured the defensive rebound, the Celtics released their perimeter players down-court as soon as the Wizards shot the ball. Washington was way too slow to adjust, and Boston scored layup after layup after dunk. It was nearly ridiculous.

Boston started the first quarter of Game 5 with a 31-16 lead, including 15 fast break points, and Washington never made a meaningful dent in that initial deficit. Afterward, John Wall correctly noted that the Wizards eliminated Boston’s easy transition baskets in quarters two through four, but the damage had already been done.

In Game 6, Washington did a much better job getting back in transition — with one notable exception. For a brief stretch in the third quarter, Stevens went back to the cherry-picking well and the Celtics got three easy scoring chances on back-to-back-to-back possessions.

First, with 9:24 remaining in the quarter and Boston leading 44-43, Wall forced a driving layup and ended up on the floor. Isaiah Thomas grabbed the rebound and tossed it ahead to a streaking Avery Bradley who was fouled from behind on a layup attempt. He hit both free throws.

Next possession, Al Horford contested Beal’s 3-point attempt at the top of the key and just kept running down the court as Beal watched the ball bounce off the back iron. Thomas got the ball and tossed it ahead to a wide open Horford for a dunk with 21 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

After Brooks called a timeout, presumably to preach transition defense, it happened again. Brooks drew up a nice play to get Wall a driving layup, but three seconds later, Boston scored again. Avery Bradley sprinted down court as soon as Wall’s shot went through the net and Thomas quickly grabbed the inbounds and tossed it ahead to Bradley for an uncontested layup. Again, there were still 21 seconds on the shot clock when Avery scored.

Washington’s nonexistent transition defense was particularly troubling because the Wizards were in the midst of a seven-plus minute stretch without a field goal, having missed 14 straight shots spanning the second and third quarters. They were struggling so hard just to manufacture a basket while gift-wrapping scores on the other end.

Luckily, Washington was able to contain Boston’s cherry-picking outbreak to just those three possessions, but those easy Celtics points — especially in a game where the Wizards were struggling to score — can be the difference.

After practice on Saturday, Otto Porter talked about Boston’s pick-up strategy:

“It’s tough because whenever they contest our shots at the top of the key the guy that contested the shot is leaking out. Horford did it that one time, contested Brad and got back.”

The good news is Porter said the coaching staff has made it a priority to stop Boston from leaking out:

“We watched film today and definitely emphasized it. If we can’t get to the rebound we definitely have to get back to stop some of the easy points because those points definitely matter at the end of the game.”

Bring #DeathRowDC On The Road.

As you have probably heard, the home team has won all 10 regular season and post-season meetings between the Wizards and Celtics this year. This series feels like it was always destined for a Game 7, with the pressure on Washington to break the home-court dominance.

Porter seems to agree. Even after Washington was down 0-2, he was confident. “We knew we’d always win at home,” Porter said. “We just had that confidence.”

While Washington’s home-court mastery this season (36-11 overall) — is a good thing, the team’s confidence might have backfired in Game 5. Washington played the pivotal swing game like they knew they’d win Game 6 and have another shot at a road win in Game 7. Coach Scott Brooks said of the team’s performance in Game 5: “We didn’t have the appropriate focus to start out the game.” Otto Porter’s comment may explain why.

The Washington Post’s Jerry Brewer even suggested that Scott Brooks himself did not fully appreciate the importance of Game 5 when the coach said after practice the day before the game, “If we want to advance, we have to win a game up there. So we’re looking at [Game 5] as the first crack to do that.”

Whatever misconceptions may have existed with Game 5, they certainly do not exist with Game 7. There is no second chance after Monday. Brooks, as the leader of this team, presumably has the best feel for how his players will respond in the hostile Game 7 environment. He sounded confident after Saturday’s practice, sort of:

“We’re gonna play much better than we played Game 5. I can tell by our focus today, umm … at least I hope.”

Brooks’ answer sounded good until that last part. Porter seems to think that Boston will be feeling the heat on their home court: “All the pressure is on them now. We can go there and just play our game, and I feel like that’s what we’re going to do.”

It’s probably a good thing if the Wizards play loose and do not let the weight of the moment crush them. Just as long as they realize there will be enough tension in TD Garden Monday night to rattle both teams. So, they better bring a lot more focus than they packed for their last trip to Boston.

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Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.