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Will Wizards turn around Celtics series at home?

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Isaiah Thomas‘ Boston Celtics and John Wall‘s Washington Wizards have built something of a rivalry this season, going back and forth, trading wins on the court and barbs off it, from the “Funeral Game” in January to the lost tooth and ejection of their current playoff series.

One thing every matchup had in common so far as Washington prepares to host Boston in Game 6 on Friday night? The home team wins.

Always.

9 for 9.

So the Celtics, leading their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal 3-2, might be feeling pretty good about where things stand at the moment. Because even if they can’t close things out Friday, they’ll get to host Game 7 on Monday, an advantage they earned by finishing with the No. 1 seed.

Hey, Bradley Beal, why does the host come out on top every time?

“I wish I knew,” was the shooting guard’s reply.

A similar question was put to Wizards coach Scott Brooks on Thursday, when his team opted to skip a full practice and instead have a light shootaround.

“That’s been analyzed and studied since the game was invented. (With) the home court, you always have a comfort level,” Brooks said. “It just happens. I don’t really know the real reason. I’ve been thinking about it for many, many years.”

Even though his team is averaging about 30 more points in Boston than in Washington during this series, Celtics coach Brad Stevens insisted that the venue isn’t the most important factor in a game’s outcome.

“It’s more about how you play,” he said.

Brooks, though, said that playing at home is different.

“Even as a player, I always felt better. Just comfortable. Your crowd’s great. They’re backing you up. You’ve played in front of the crowd. You’ve played into the baskets 41 times during the regular season, so the rims, the court, everything’s familiar,” he said. “That being said, we’ve still got to play well. We’ve got to play with great effort. We’ve got to be locked in, focused.”

Brooks acknowledged that was not the case in Boston’s 123-101 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday, especially at the defensive end.

In the first quarter, the Celtics led the Wizards 15-0 in transition points, a surprising statistic given just how good Wall is at orchestrating that part of the game.

“If you miss a shot, you miss a shot,” Brooks said. “You’ve got to get back and not compound that miss with a defensive lapse.”

Still, he chose to accentuate the positive.

“We did not lose the series,” Brooks noted. “We lost the game.”

Celtics at Wizards, Celtics lead series 3-2. Game 6, 8 p.m., ESPN.

NEED TO KNOW: This series has been filled with one big run after another. Four of the five games featured a stretch of 16-0 or greater, including a 26-point burst by Washington in Game 4, and a 16-point stretch for the Celtics in Game 5. Joked Brooks on Thursday: “I’ll take a 25-point run. That’d be nice.”

KEEP AN EYE ON: Beal, Otto Porter Jr. The Wizards 3-point shooting has been a problem in the playoffs, with the team down at 32 percent through 11 playoff games after hitting 37 percent during the regular season. Beal (from 40 percent in the regular season to 28 in the playoffs) and Porter (from 43 to 31), in particular, have been off, and they’re supposed to be Washington’s most productive from beyond the arc. “When you’re as good as Brad,” Brooks said, “there’s going to be extra attention on you. You’ve got to give the defense some credit.”

INJURY UPDATE: Celtics G Avery Bradley, who’s been dealing with hip issues during the series, sure seemed OK while scoring 29 points in Game 5 , including 25 in the first half on 10-of-13 shooting. “All indications are that he felt good after yesterday’s game,” Stevens said.

PRESSURE IS ON: The Wizards, of course. Not only are they facing elimination, but even if they win Game 6, they know that they are 0-5 in Boston, the site of Game 7 if there is one, since the start of this season.

 

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason β€” he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one,Β “I missed that on purpose.”Β 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. β€” he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle β€” providing more quality wing play and good decision making β€” and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart β€” an All-Defensive Team player β€” had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that β€” and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late β€” to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year β€” 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.