Wizards bench makes the difference to beat Celtics

Finally, everything came together for the Washington Wizards on Thursday, as they beat the Boston Celtics 116-89 to trim their second-round Eastern Conference playoff series deficit to 2-1.

The Wizards dominated the Celtics for the first two games in Boston, when the starters squared off against each other, that is.

But any time Washington had to rely on their bench, the Celtics steamrolled the Wizards. Add in some atypical defensive struggles, and John Wall’s team was on the verge of elimination despite seemingly being the better team.

A funny thing happened in Game Three though, and it wasn’t Kelly Olynyk flopping after Kelly Oubre accosted him in the second quarter.

Wall was his amazing self on Thursday night; tallying 24 points, eight assists and three steals for good measure, as the starters once again crushed their opposition. But the real difference between Game Three and Games One and Two was 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).

That’s all Washington need. If their bench can play the Celtics’ bench to a stalemate, the Wizards can come back to win this series. They might not even lose another game against Boston.

Then again, no-one should overreact to Washington’s improved play, because Game Three 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 away team holding the 2-0 lead often decide they’ve had enough after a half-hearted counter-punch.

In Game Four, the Wizards might not have the same sense of urgency they had with their backs against the wall, especially if Oubre is suspended for the aforementioned altercation. A letdown loss at home would be the death-knell 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 of evening this one up and putting the pressure right back on the Celtics.

Thursday’s other NBA result

Utah Jazz 104-115 Golden State Warriors