The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jayson Tatum-less Celtics have no problem fending off the Wizards

Celtics 130, Wizards 121

Celtics guard Jaylen Brown drives to the basket against Wizards defenders Monte Morris, Corey Kispert, Kristaps Porzingis and Deni Avdija during the first half Sunday. (Mary Schwalm/AP)

BOSTON — Wes Unseld Jr. had his concerns before the game, and that was knowing the Boston Celtics would be without their best player. The Washington Wizards coach anticipated a barrage of three-pointers from the team with the NBA’s top record, the squad that also ranked second in three-point percentage.

The absence of leading scorer Jayson Tatum as he rested a sprained ankle would affect the Celtics’ biggest strength, it seemed, but Unseld warned against such thinking before the game. When it began, he was absolutely right.

Boston made 11 three-pointers in the first half as it built a 17-point halftime lead and cruised to a 130-121 victory Sunday night. The loss was the third in a row for Washington. The Wizards (10-10) return home to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday after all three losses came away from Capital One Arena.

“They got going early,” Unseld said. “... A lot of those possessions early were transition, second-chance points — kind of the 50-50 plays, the hustle plays that gave them a lot of life. We knew that, yeah, it was going to be tough to keep pace. Try to minimize the easy ones. To their credit, they made some tough ones. But we have to find a way to make them miss.”

Both teams were efficient in the first half, but the Wizards essentially traded twos for threes. Eight of the nine Celtics who played in the half made a three-pointer before halftime as they shot 47.8 percent from behind the arc. The Wizards shot 51.2 percent from the field before halftime but just 27.8 percent on three-pointers.

A 14-3 stretch midway through the first quarter gave the Celtics a nine-point lead that extended to 14 in the second on Jaylen Brown’s first three-pointer. Serving as the Celtics’ No. 1 option, Brown finished with a season-high 36 points. Boston (16-4) led 72-55 at halftime, and the Wizards never made a run in the second half.

“Everybody in the league is beatable, but they’ve been playing at a high level,” Bradley Beal said. “So you’ve definitely got to respect what they do, their approach to the game. They didn’t have their best player out there tonight, and they still play the same way. ... I think our defensive effort, if it was there, would have made our offense that much easier.”

Beal led Washington with 30 points and added five rebounds and four assists. Kristaps Porzingis had 21 points.

The Celtics’ Malcolm Brogdon poured in 17 points off the bench to go with six rebounds and four assists. Marcus Smart had 14 points, seven assists and four rebounds as seven Celtics scored in double figures.

“It was so hard to stop these guys, and they’re playing that five-out type of game,” Porzingis said. “... And if they had a drive, there was nobody in the lane to help. Their offense is really working, and it was hard to stop them. They’re one of the best offensive teams for a good reason.”

Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:

Wizards get Bradley Beal back but succumb again to the Heat

Shorthanded

The Wizards were without Kyle Kuzma (back), Rui Hachimura (ankle) and Johnny Davis (groin) but got Monte Morris (ankle) back. Morris returned after missing three games; he started Sunday night and finished with 16 points and eight assists.

The DNP was the first of the season for Kuzma, who had started all 19 games and was tied with Porzingis as the team’s No. 2 scorer at 20.3 points.

“I wouldn’t say it was an injury,” Unseld said. “He’s played a lot of minutes. He was complaining of a sore back into yesterday evening, got some treatment this morning. ... Got treated again after the ballroom walk-through.”

Boston was without three-time all-star Tatum. He was listed as questionable Wednesday but played that night and Friday before interim coach Joe Mazzulla held him out Sunday. Tatum is averaging 30.5 points.

“We’ll collaborate together on what we think is important for him and our team in the short term and long term,” Mazzulla said.

Grant Williams got the start in Tatum’s place and scored five points.

Rotation tweaks

The Wizards’ Taj Gibson played his second-most minutes of the season with 12 off the bench, which cut into Daniel Gafford’s time on the floor. Gibson finished with 12 points; Gafford had four points and three rebounds in six minutes.

Guard Devon Dotson made his first appearance of the season and went scoreless with four rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes.

“Just love the energy and physicality,” Unseld said of Gibson. “At times, [he] changes the vibe in that I think he brings us a boost, as do those young guards — [Jordan] Goodwin, Dotson, both of them played well. They injected some energy in the group.”

Goodwin had nine points in 24 minutes.

‘I hate losing’

Beal made his feelings clear after the loss.

“We’ve just got to be better, man. I hate losing,” he said. “I don’t want to make an excuse for it; we’ve just got to be better. We have to be a lot better on the defensive end. Our offense will take care of itself. I’m rarely ever worried about offense. We’ve got to continue to make sure our defensive effort is there.”

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