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Wizards Drop First Play-in Game to Celtics; Will Play Pacers Thursday

wizards celtics play-in

The Wizards lost their play-in game to the Boston Celtics 118-100 Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics. For the Celtics, the win means that they clinch the seventh seed and will face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. The loss for the Wizards means they face the Indiana Pacers Thursday night at 8:00 PM for the final Eastern conference play-in game. 

The Pacers are coming off of a statement victory in their play-in game against the Charlotte Hornets. They rolled Charlotte 144-117 and had eight players score in double figures. Domantas Sabonis in particular had a monster game with 14 points, 21 rebounds and 9 assists. The Wizards and Pacers will be playing for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern conference and the right to play the number one seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the postseason. 

The Celtics – Wizards game was an odd spectacle to say the least, and neither team was ever really able to find a groove on offense. The Celtics were ultimately able to come away with the victory despite shooting under 40 percent from the field as a team. Their total offensive output was greatly bolstered by making 15 of their 45 3-pointers, making 27 of their 32 attempts at the free-throw line and Jayson Tatum’s 50 points on 32 shots. Bradley Beal had 22 points on 10-25 shooting for Washington. 

There were a bevy of questionable decisions and plays from the Wizards throughout the night. The 6’8 Tatum spent most of the game guarded by players such as Ish Smith and Bradley Beal who are much smaller than him, and in Beal’s case, seriously hobbled by injuries. This size discrepancy put them in a difficult position and made it easy for Tatum to bait them into shooting fouls. Tatum went to the line 17 times and made all 17 attempts. One has to wonder why head coach Scott Brooks did not assign this defensive task to a more sizable and capable player such as Rui Hachimura. Additionally, Wizards point guard Russell Westbrook had a poor showing, going 6-18 from the field, 0-4 on 3-pointers and only mustering five assists compared to his league-leading season average of 11.7. 

A Familiar Story

The story of Westbrook’s career in recent years has been his inability to perform at his regular season levels in the postseason, and it is reflected in the box scores. Since the 2017 playoffs, he has shot 39.4 percent from the field on 23.5 attempts per game and 29.7 percent on 6.6 3-point attempts per game. While some of the blame for this game lies on the shoulders of Brooks for his jumbled and disorganized offensive system that lacks any fluidity, more is expected out of Westbrook, who is making over $41 million this season. That being said, Brooks has failed to innovate or even organize the offense throughout the year, and notably misutilized rookie forward Deni Avdija prior to his season-ending ankle injury. He seems perfectly content to allow Westbrook and Beal to take the proverbial reins of the offense and toss up whatever shots they would like, which in this game meant a steady diet of mid-range jumpers that did not fall. 

In fairness to Washington, there was a noticeable discrepancy in the officiating, with the Wizards going to the line 17 times in comparison to the Celtics 32. Tatum often used the ‘Trae Young’ strategy of running into the backs of trailing defenders while shooting a jumper in order to draw a shooting foul. This strategy has been roundly criticized by fans, players and coaches alike. Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash made headlines earlier this season when he called the tactic “not basketball” in an interview following a game against the Atlanta Hawks

Despite the unbalanced officiating, the Wizards still deserved to lose this game. They went 3-21 on 3-pointers and never seemed to be able to get into a flow offensively with both of their stars unable to get a rhythm going. Luckily, they have another shot at the postseason against the Pacers, but this loss is certainly not a good omen, especially with how dominant the Pacers looked against the Hornets. Here’s to hoping they can rise to the occasion and sneak into the last playoff spot. 

All stats courtesy of Pro Basketball Reference and ESPN

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