Given the way Game 2 ended, it’s easy to forget how close the Wizards were to winning the game in regulation. Even in a game where several players struggled, the Wizards had two shots on the final possession of regulation to win the game. Unfortunately, some poor decisions in the final 14 seconds cost Washington a chance to steal a game on the road and seize control of the series.
Before we discuss the final possession itself, it’s important to acknowledge the tactical error Scott Brooks made after Isaiah Thomas made his second free throw to tie the game at 114. By calling a timeout to set up the final play, he gave Brad Stevens a chance to sub out Thomas and bring in his best defensive lineup on the final possession.
Compare that to how Jazz head coach Quin Snyder handled a similar situation against the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. After Chris Paul tied the game at 95 with just seconds left, Snyder opted against using a timeout. By doing so, he forced Jamal Crawford to play defense on the final possession and the Jazz were able to get the mismatch they wanted with Crawford trying to stop Joe Johnson. The rest was history:
It would have been one thing if Scott Brooks had an amazing play call up his sleeve to get a good look, but that wasn’t the case at all. It was just a very simple Wall-Gortat pick-and-roll that led to a contested fadeaway jumper at the elbow. Bradley Beal made a great read to grab the offensive rebound and get up another quick shot before the buzzer, but it was a rushed shot that didn’t have much of a chance of going in.
If nothing else, it was a very safe play. By milking the clock and not trying to pass the ball around, the Wizards avoided a turnover that could have given the Celtics a chance to win in regulation. If Washington was confident they could win the game in overtime, it wouldn’t have been the worst decision to play it safe on that possession.
The thing is, everything about the closing minutes suggested the Wizards needed to go for the win right there at all costs. John Wall and Bradley Beal were clearly gassed after playing heavy minutes, Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris were both a foul away from being knocked out of the game, and all the momentum was on Boston’s side. The worst thing they could do at that point was try to extend the game another five minutes.
As I mentioned on the Locked on Wizards podcast after Game 2, I believe some of the unlucky breaks the Wizards have dealt with will go their way now as the series heads back to Washington. Keeping it close on the road in both games against the top seed in the East should offer some hope that the Wizards can even the series up in Washington and set up a pivotal Game 5 in Boston. But if the Wizards are going to have any chance of stealing the series, they’re going to need to do a better job of recognizing mismatches in late-game situations and not settling for the safe play when there are opportunities to win like they did in Game 2.