Boston Celtics’ adjustments pave way for Game 5 blitz vs. Washington Wizards

It turns out the Washington Wizards did a favor to their enemies by humiliating them for two series-equaling routs in D.C. The responded by returning to back to basics so effectively and ruthlessly that their 123-101 win in Game 5 was essentially sewed up in the opening quarter.

The No. 1-seeded Celtics seized a 3-2 lead in their semifinal series Wednesday by swallowing up Wizards point guard defensively, attacking in transition relentlessly and transforming Isaiah Thomas — for a couple of quarters at least — into a traditional pass-first point guard.

“The most important stat for us is 33-11 assist-to-turnover,’’ said Boston coach . “If we only turn it over 11 times, it gives us a better chance to set our defense. We need to share and move the ball and wholesale jerseys the way we did tonight.’’

Their attention to detail had all kinds of unforeseen benefits. Avery Bradley (a career playoff-best 29 points) was recast as an All-Star, Al Horford (a typically efficient 8 of 9 for 19 points) was unusually emotional, and Thomas (18 timely points) emerged as a secondary option.

“We didn’t have the appropriate focus to start out the game,’’ said Washington coach after watching Boston convert his team’s 13 turnovers into a staggering 23 points. “We gave them so many good opportunities in transition — you do that and the basket becomes bigger.’’

Having been clobbered by a combined 46 points in the preceding two losses at home — during which John Wall had looked like a mini-LeBron James, and Thomas (32 points in Games 3 and 4) had played like a lesser version of himself — the Celtics responded by breaking their biggest problems into little solutions. For two days, they drilled on cutting to the basket with more energy and conviction, on picking up Wall (21 points and four negligible assists) earlier and tighter, on turning solid defense into explosive offense and vice-versa.

By Wednesday night they were ready to atone like a football team busting through the locker room doors.

The Celtics ran out — literally — to an instant 31-16 lead thanks to a breathtaking 15-0 advantage in fast-break points in the opening quarter. It was as if the teams had switched personalities since their lost weekend in Washington, where they had been demolished by runs of 22-0 and 26-0. In Game 5 the Wizards understood how that felt.

Clippers #32 Blake Griffin Grey Graystone Fashion Stitched NBA Jersey“Yeah, I’m going to be able to play,” Leonard said. “It was frustrating because I wanted to play. But I was happy seeing my teammates out there putting in a good effort and getting the win.”

Leonard was hurt when he landed on the foot of Houston guard James Harden with 5:37 left in the third quarter. He went to the bench briefly during a timeout, re-tied his shoe and cheap throwback NBA jerseys returned to the game.

The 25-year-old Leonard then came out of the game with 4:57 left in regulation time, re-entered with 2:59 to play, then left for good with 34.5 seconds to play. He did not play at all in the overtime period.

There will be much complaining in TD Garden and on talk radio if the Celtics lose Game 5, which would probably signal the end to their season. In the bigger picture, however, their premature success has camouflaged many of the valuable assets that Ainge has yet to utilize – the maximum salary space that can be managed this summer, the wealth of young players on rookie contracts that can be packaged into a trade, and the two picks from the Nets that could be No. 1 overall this June as well as next year. In that sense, the Celtics are currently playing with house money.

The strength of the Celtics’ position – they need only hold serve at home to advance – belies the lopsided results from Washington, and Thomas has remained intent on focusing on the positives. Since being picked up on the cheap by Ainge at the 2015 trade deadline, Thomas has emerged as Boston’s most prolific scorer since Larry Bird because he has refused to accept what is obvious to everyone else – whether it has been overcoming his size at 5-foot-9, or continuing to lead the Celtics despite the shocking death of his younger sister in a car accident on the eve of the playoffs.

His failure to dominate in Washington, where he combined for 32 points (fewer than he had scored in either of the games in Boston), has led to speculation that Thomas has been exhausted by the emotional turmoil of his postseason. But he appeared resolute after practice on Tuesday.

“We’ve got to remain confident in ourselves – in what we did to get  to this point,’’ Thomas said. “I’ve got to put my foot on the gas and I can’t take it off. I’ve got to keep going, and I know if I do, my teammates’ cheap jerseys will follow.’’

It was true, Bradley said, that the young Celtics had been discouraged at times by their poor shooting over the last two games. “That could go back to immaturity a little bit, and just losing control as a group,’’ Bradley said. “I think the coaches, the players — all of us as a whole — we definitely have to do a better job of keeping our composure and making sure that we are focused. Even if we are down in the game like that, all you can do is play hard at the end of the day. And so we have to do that as a unit.’’

That’s what they’ve done for most of this year, and for the two years before. That is why this young team has progressed ahead of schedule. But the question facing them in Game 5 may be beyond them: Is this simply John Wall’s time?

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