Finally, everything came together for the Washington Wizards on Thursday night, as they beat the Boston Celtics 116-89 to trim their second-round Eastern Conference playoff series deficit to two games to one.
The Wizards dominated the Celtics for the first two games in Boston when the starters squared off against each other, that is.
Any time Washington had to rely on its bench, though, the Celtics steamrolled the Wizards. Add in some atypical defensive struggles, and John Wall's team was on the verge of elimination despiteseemingly being the better team.
A funny thing happened in Game 3, though, and we're not talking about Kelly Olynyk flopping after Kelly Oubre accosted him in the second quarter.
Wall was his amazing self Thursday night, tallying 24points, eight assists and three stealsfor good measure, and the starters once again crushed their opposition.The real difference between Game 3 and Games 1 and 2was that awful Washington bench.
The reserves didn't light the world on fire Bojan Bogdanovic was the only Wizards bench player in double figures, chipping in 19 in 29 minutes but the bench held its own against Boston's second unit. In fact, all eight reserves had positive plus-minus ratings (although a few padded their numbers in garbage time).
Even Marcin Gortat, who's not a reserve yet had struggled this series, turned it on at home with 13 points and 16 boards.
That's allWashington needs, really. If their bench can play the Celtics' bench to a stalemate, the Wizards can come back to win this series. Hell, they might not lose another game against Boston.
Then again, let's pump the brakes here.We shouldn't overreact to Washington's improved play, because Game 3 was a much-needed reminder of one of the NBA postseason's oldest truths: a series doesn't really start until the home team loses.
There's a reason for that axiom. Outside of the Association's juggernauts the Warriors and the Cavaliers of the world playoff games often boil down to which team's reserves play better. Those reserves tend to have their best games at home; they're more comfortable,and the crowd is behind them.
They feed off each other and the energy in the building, while the road team with the 2-0 lead often decides it's had enough after a halfhearted counter-punch.
In Game 4, though, the Wizards might not have the same sense of urgency they had with their back against the walland coming home for the first time this series, especially if Oubre is suspended for the aforementioned altercation. A letdown loss at home would be the deathknell for Washington's season and the unofficial start of this second-round series.
But if Washington can understand the importance of the moment, the Wizards have every chance ofevening this one up and putting the pressure right back on the Celtics.