CELTICS 110, WIZARDS 104 (OT)
PABLO MARTINEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — The NBA trade deadline passed on Thursday afternoon without the Celtics making a move, and there was mostly relief in the locker room afterward. This team has surged to the top of the Eastern Conference with this group, and the players and coaches had been hopeful there would not be significant change.
Then they took the court and showed what they are optimistic about, as they grabbed a hard-fought 110-104 overtime win over the Wizards.
The game was a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals, when Washington won all three games played on its home court. And given the current standings and the trajectories of these two teams, it is certainly possible, if not likely, they will meet again during the postseason.
This game was not necessarily as thrilling as those played in that seven-game slugfest last May. The Wizards committed 22 turnovers, the Celtics missed 11 free throws, and both teams trudged through some unseemly stretches. Washington’s greatest gaffe came with 9.8 seconds left in regulation, when Markieff Morris fouled Boston’s Kyrie Irving on an off-balance 3-pointer when the Wizards led by 3 points. Irving made all three foul shots to force overtime, and the Celtics seized control from there.
Irving finished with 28 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists to lead the Celtics. Although the Celtics did not make a trade, they were able to unfurl their newest addition when center Greg Monroe officially signed his one-year deal. The team had been holding off on finalizing the contract until the trade deadline passed so it would have more options.
Before the game Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he was unsure if Monroe would play, but the big man entered the game late in the first quarter and finished with 5 points and 6 rebounds in nearly 20 minutes of action.
Stevens frequently paired Monroe with long forward Daniel Theis and said after the game he is eager to allow Theis to defend opposing guards along the perimeter when he shares the court with Monroe, partly because of Theis’s ability to grab rebounds over smaller players with his length.
“It’s just incredible that Brad has more weapons to work with now,” Irving said. “So we’ll see how it works out going forward.”
Otto Porter Jr. had 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Wizards, but Bradley Beal made just 7 of 27 shots and scored 18 points. Washington was without All-Star point guard John Wall, who is recovering from minor knee surgery.
Neither team was able to extend its lead beyond 5 points over the first three quarters, but the Celtics created some space with an 8-0 fourth-quarter run that gave them an 88-78 lead with 5:23 left.
Then the Wizards clawed back, however, surging back in front with a 14-3 burst to take a 92-91 lead on a Kelly Oubre 3-pointer with 2:11 left.
A pair of Markieff Morris free throws gave Washington a 98-95 lead with 12.8 seconds left.
The Celtics then called their final timeout and probably needed a 3. Irving took an off-balance one from the right corner that was not close, but Morris swiped at him and was called for the foul.
Morris, who also fouled Irving on a 3-pointer in overtime, vehemently disputed the first call after the game.
“The first was nowhere near a foul,” he said. “I mean, [referee Billy Kennedy] was behind me. I don’t know how he could see me swiping down on the ball, me hitting his arm. If I hit his arms, there was no way he could get the shot up. The second was a foul. I can honestly admit to that, but the first one was nowhere near.”
When Irving was asked about the play, he smiled and said he was being set up by the question. He just said he was glad he had made his free throws.
Washington still had a chance to win in regulation, but Beal’s jumper at the buzzer was an airball.
With the score tied at 100 in the extra session, Morris once again fouled Irving on a 3-pointer, fouling out in the process. Irving hit all three free throws before Marcin Gortat answered at the other end with a 3-point play.
A Jaylen Brown layup gave the Celtics a 105-103 lead with 2:33 left. During a frenetic sequence following a jump ball, the ball ended up in Brown’s hands in the left corner and he drilled a 3 with 1:43 left. The Wizards would score just 1 more point in the game.
The Celtics made up for a humiliating loss in Toronto on Tuesday night and maintained their one-game lead over the Raptors.
Although Boston did not make any trades earlier in the day, the Cavaliers rejoined the conference conversation by almost completely dismantling their aging roster to start anew around LeBron James. Cleveland added Rodney Hood, George Hill, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, as it hopes to resuscitate its season.
Aside from signing Monroe, the Celtics are moving forward as they were before. And now, they say, they are ready for the stretch run.
“Every team is coming,” Brown said. “They look at the East and think it’s wide open, and rightfully so. Everybody is coming with their best. Everyone talks about the Celtics. We’re the No. 1 team in the East and we’ve been No. 1 for a while now. These teams are on our heels and we know that, so every night we have to come out with the same energy.”
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