“It was a great effort, outstanding effort,” said center Marcin Gortat, who recorded a double-double but sat in the fourth quarter as the Wizards played a smaller lineup. “I wish we could play a [national] TV game every time because people just literally showed up and we gave 110 percent effort and unbelievable energy, focus, and we didn’t get distracted and we didn’t drop our heads down after a turnover or missed shot. We just continued to play hard.”
The only problem: Marquee Christmas games on ESPN only come once a year, and after the high in Boston the Wizards (19-15) return to a regional broadcast against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (8-25), on Wednesday. Often, this would cause the Wizards to snooze and — to borrow Gortat’s words — not show up in a game that could easily turn into another bad loss.
The Wizards are 9-9 record against teams under .500. The lowlights include early November home losses to the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, games so embarrassing that Gortat spent weeks apologizing for them. The Wizards also let a late lead slip away in Charlotte then wasted two trips to Brooklyn, losing by 35 points just last week to the rebuilding Nets.
With the Wizards’ bad habits in mind, John Wall believes the Christmas road win will amount to nothing if his team comes up empty in Atlanta.
“If we back this up with a win on Wednesday, I think it gives us momentum going into Friday against Houston and going into the new year,” Wall said. “But if we don’t back it up, I think it’s just doing the same thing back over and over again. Playing against the great teams, you play up to the competition. Then play against the lower teams, you fail to [win] those games.”
If anything else, the win in Boston sparked nostalgia for the Wizards.
Washington closed the game with its effective small-ball lineup from the 2016-17 season — Markieff Morris at center along with a frontcourt of Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. The Wizards often praise this lineup for its ability to switch on defense, but against the Celtics, the lanky forwards broke from tradition and successively crashed the boards for offensive rebounds. Although Washington typically elects to get back on defense to stop transition plays instead of sending bodies to the offensive glass, Oubre and Porter stayed active in rebounding and created three additional possessions within the final three minutes of the game.
“They played small there a little bit,” Porter said of Boston. “Me and Kelly got size. We can go in and tip some out or put them back up and that’s one thing me and him are going to try to do a little bit more, is crash the offensive rebound when we can.”
Washington scored 18 second-chance points and outplayed Boston in the paint for a 60-44 advantage. In the moments after the final buzzer, Oubre waved his arms then sprinted off the floor. Inside the locker room, players doled out special handshakes and Wall relived the most painful moments of his 21-point, 14-assist performance, smiling like a kid while telling Morris about getting poked in the eye during one play.
Soon, the stories ceased and players dressed, turning to answer reporters’ questions. Bradley Beal did not overly celebrate the Christmas win, but like many of his teammates, he recognized its potential to define the rest of the season.
“We got to realize it’s time for us to take off. We got to start making some noise and really showing our identity each and every game,” Beal said. “Being physical, getting stops, being able to score the ball, taking care of the ball and being active on defense. Because when we get out in transition, we’re one of the best teams in the league. At the same time, you don’t want to get too cocky about it. Respect each opponent that you play and be prepared that night.”