WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards have had one of the best starting lineups in the NBA this season and that has remained true throughout these playoffs, even as they take on the top-seeded Boston Celtics.
Against the Celtics, the Wizards’ starting lineup of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat have a net rating of +45.2 in 69 minutes of play with a 130.7 offensive rating.
That’s straight up dominance. And for the most part, the Wizards have been dominant in this series. In Game 3, the Wizards led wire to wire, leading by as many 30 points. In Game 4, after a 26-0 run in the third quarter, the Wizards had a lead that ballooned to 26 points.
In Games 1 & 2 in Boston, the Wizards had leads of 17 and 14 points, respectively. It took the totally unique and damn near inimitable circumstances of the Celtics hitting 19 threes in Game 1 and Isaiah Thomas going for 53 in Game 2 to win those contests.
In the playoffs, there are no moral victories. Wins are wins and losses are losses. But in this situation, one thing is clear: The Washington Wizards have been the better team so far in this series.
“We’re right there,” Markieff Morris said after a game four win. “We’re the better team and we feel like we’ve been the better team. So if we go out there and play like that, I think we’ll get the wins.”
Morris isn’t wrong. The Wizards have held double-digit leads in all four games of the series so far and have jumped out to quick starts in each game aside from Game 4. The Wizards have finished 11 of the 16 quarters in this series with leads. They’ve got a +2.4 net rating and are a Bradley Beal jump shot away from being on top 3-1 in the series.
But this has been a trend for Washington. They’ve been a dominant home team all season long, but haven’t been able to muster up quite the same zest on the road. On Sunday night, they found a key to success that has been the common thread their season has hung on: Defense. And they’re going to need a lot of it in Boston, where the Celtics’ offense has been nothing short of prolific this postseason with an offensive rating of 113.5 and a rating of 124.4 in this series.
The Wizards had a chance to win both games in Boston, but fell short because their defense did not hold up. They may not have a night like they did tonight where they forced nine turnovers in the third quarter that led to 21 points. They also may not have another night where they’re able to keep Isaiah Thomas off of the free throw line. But they’ll probably need something close to pull out their first win of the season in Boston.
“We know we have the ability to win there,” Wall said. “We just have to bring the same defensive intensity that we had the two games here.”
Yes, the Wizards have been the better team this series. But that isn’t what matters. Just ask last year’s Golden State Warriors team or last year’s San Antonio Spurs after they blew out the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of their series.
What matters is what the score is when the buzzer sounds. And whether you win by one point or lose by 40, the only thing that counts is the win or loss. Whoever gets to four wins first wins the series.
Each series is like a mini-season in itself with the goal of getting to four first. Teams make adjustments and continue to improve in the slightest ways. Whoever improves the most throughout that series is crowned the victor in the end until they reach their 16th victory.
The Wizards have a long way to go before they get to that point, but they like their chances.
“Each game we’re getting better and better. Adjusting to what they’re doing and making adjustments ourselves,” Porter said.
This team has a chance to be something special. At the beginning of the season, no one had the Wizards pegged for a chance to play for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series now shifts to the best of three and Boston has the homecourt, but that’s fine. The Wizards have two chances to snag a game on the road.
They’ve proven they can protect their homecourt. They’ve proven they can defend. And when they’re at their best, they can win on the road. On Wednesday, if they’re the better team again, they’ll return home with a chance to seal the deal.
“It’s a must-win for us in Boston,” Porter said. “With our confidence now, going there, I feel like we can definitely pull out a W.”