There’s no place like home.
That’s one way to sum up the series between the Celtics and Wizards through five games.
After Wednesday’s 123-101 win, Boston takes a 3-2 series lead back to D.C., where they were blown out on two occasions earlier in the series.
A win on Friday (8 p.m., ESPN) would mark Boston’s first return to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2012, and just four seasons after Celtics GM Danny Ainge traded away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, electing to rebuild instead.
A loss would send the series back to Boston for a Game 7 on Monday, where the winner goes on to play LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Celtics were able to close out a Bulls team that had lost Rajon Rondo and three straight games, but it certainly won’t be that easy this time around against a healthy Wizards team looking for payback and one more flight back to Boston.
“We have to stay in the moment,” Isaiah Thomas said of Game 6. “We know what’s at stake. We know it’s going to be a hostile environment. But if we lock in like we did tonight, limit our turnovers, limit their transition, that gives us the best chance of winning that game. We did a hell of a job [Wednesday night] first guy to the last guy.”
It’s pretty simple
In Game 2, the Celtics needed 53 points from Isaiah Thomas to pull off the victory. Game 5’s win came very differently, as Thomas finished tied for third on the C’s in scoring with 18 behind Avery Bradley (29) and Al Horford (19), and tied with Jae Crowder. The Celtics balanced attack came early and often, as the C’s dropped 33 points in the first quarter. It was a classic case of offense creating defense. By hitting so many shots, the C’s forced the Wizards to take the ball out from under the basket instead of pushing it up the court on a miss, where John Wall and co. are very dangerous. It may come as a shock to you, but scoring the basketball consistently will more often times than not put you ahead. The C’s need to find a groove early and slow the game down.
Don’t beat yourselves
Based on skill alone, the Wizards are a very tough matchup. Add in the fact that they have been able to get under the Celtics skin over the last two seasons, and you can see why the C’s have struggled at times. But it’s vice versa, as the C’s have equally frustrated the Wizards. Brad Stevens has stressed all year that his team doesn’t get too high and they don’t get too low. That will need to be the case in Game 6, a game that should be the most emotional one that many of these players have ever played in. That’s why having Al Horford on the floor and in the locker room is so important. Horford has shown increased production –and intensity – in the playoffs, but his demeanor is something his teammates should mimic on the floor.
Battle of the bigs
It took way too long, but the Celtics got a strong performance from their starting center, Amir Johnson, which all but guarantees he’ll get the start for Game 6. Johnson didn’t “wow” anybody, but did finish 4-for-5 for eight points and five rebounds as well as a plus-6 in 18 minutes. Kelly Olynyk and Horford also had strong showings. The Celtics bigs outplayed the Wizards bigs and though Marcin Gortat still grabbed 11 boards, he was ineffective for much of the game. The C’s were outmatched on the glass against the Bulls, but in Game 5 against the Wizards outrebounded them 48-45. A big reason for that was Marcus Smart’s 11 rebounds. Boston cannot allow the Wizards to push them around down low and get to those “50-50” balls. Playing with “purpose” is something Brad Stevens stressed after Game 5, and he’ll look for the same tonight.