If you want to be really basic, extra careful, you will conclude only that the Washington Wizards won two home games over the past four days to even an antagonistic series that is far from finished. You can temper any enthusiasm or amazement this way. It’s the safe approach. Your weary heart thanks you.
But did you see how they did it? Did you not watch the exhilarating 26-0 third-quarter run Sunday night, which followed a 22-0 first-quarter run Thursday night, which followed dominant moments even in defeat during Games 1 and 2? There’s not enough caution in this nervous world to deny the evidence through four games of this Eastern Conference semifinal matchup: The Wizards are flat-out better than the Boston Celtics.
This is a most lopsided 2-2 series, and the fact that it’s 2-2 serves as a reminder of how fickle the playoffs can be. The Celtics have two victories because they’re tough, and they have played well at the right moments at home. The victor isn’t the first team to win four games impressively. It’s the first to four, period, and so the Wizards must resist making too much of their dominance. However, if you think the Wizards have done nothing more than get back into this series, you’re mistaken. They have controlled this thing.
“We the better team, and we feel like we’ve been the better team,” said Morris, who had 16 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
We the beneficiary of Morris’s straight talk.
Morris continued: “We go out there and we play like that, I think we’ll get the wins.”
But what about the Wizards’ 1-4 road record this postseason? No matter how dominant they were at home, they can’t win the series without taking a game at TD Garden. Can they do it, especially after blowing a big early lead in Game 1 and a late advantage in Game 2?
“Definitely, we were up six with two minutes left in that game,” Morris said of Game 2. “If we just played like we did [today], we would have won that game. We’d be 3-1 right now. But it didn’t happen that way, so we just got to stay tough, keep our game plan and go into Boston and win one.
“For sure it’s going to be hard. They’re still a good team — it’s Boston, know what I mean? But we all feel like we are the better team, even to start the series. This is what we wanted during the regular season when we was chippy and going at it. We wanted Boston in the playoffs. So you got to go out there and act like that. I think we did the last couple games.”
The Wizards’ confidence doesn’t matter as much as Boston’s state of mind right now. The Celtics have to be concerned. When the Wizards throw their best punch, it overwhelms the Celtics. When the Celtics play well, it coincides with Washington breakdowns, and the Celtics have had to overcome large deficits just to win at the end.
Boston Coach Brad Stevens arrived in the District acknowledging that, while his team was up 2-0, the Wizards had controlled the series. The gap has only increased over the past two games. It’s odd to see a No. 1 seed getting blasted with 20-point runs with regularity. The playoffs are about adjustments, but if one team is clearly superior, it’s hard to mask the truth in a best-of-seven series. You have to wonder how much doubt the Celtics must overcome.
“One of the things, if you turn the ball over against these guys, you prefer to drop-kick it into the stands so that at least you can set your defense,” Stevens said of the Wizards. “Their attack in transition killed us.”
When the Wizards play good defense, they turn the game into a track meet, with John Wall sprinting down the court, attacking the basket and finding open teammates. Their 26-0 run in the third quarter represented a 5:59 clinic on what Washington basketball has become under Coach Scott Brooks.
In that span, the Wizards forced Boston to miss five shots, but they also harassed the Celtics into eight of their 18 turnovers. As Wall sped up the game, the Wizards made 10 of 13 field goals during the run, including two three-pointers. They also made four free throws, two of which completed three-point plays.
Brooks called it “probably” the Wizards’ best stretch of the season. It might have been the best stretch that any team has played.
“We played inspired basketball for each other,” Brooks said. “We talked about that many times. It’s about playing for each other, and we’ve been doing that all year.”
It came at a time in which the Celtics seemed to have control. After being outscored badly in the first quarter during the first three games, Boston started well and led 24-20 after 12 minutes. In the second quarter, the Celtics built a 40-28 advantage. The game was tied at halftime, and the Celtics had made eight three-pointers, including five by Isaiah Thomas, who scored 17 of his 19 points early. They were playing their game. They were 24 good minutes from taking a 3-1 series lead.
Then they came undone. Or, rather, the Wizards took them apart. Why? Because the Wizards actually executed their game plan. When the Wizards have just done what they’re supposed to, they have owned the Celtics.
“I feel like we feel like we’re in control,” said Wall, who missed his first nine shots but ended up with 27 points and 12 assists. “We feel like we can win there. We know we can. . . . We like our chances.”
Over the past 38 years, as the Wizards have struggled to rise from mediocrity, you have learned to hedge. You know there are ways the Wizards could lose this series that have yet to be imagined. But as this series has progressed, they have grown only more dominant.
They the better team. Straight up. Simple as that.
Now it’s on them to finish the job.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.