(4) Washington Wizards @ (1) Boston Celtics (series tied 3-3)
Although the Western Conference Finals have started, the Eastern Conference semi-finals are still going on. The topsy-turvy series between the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards will go tonight to a game seven that has looked inevitable for a while.
This has been arguably the most exciting series of the entire playoffs, with Washington taking game six in a 92-91 victory on a game winning three pointer by John Wall, from his favourite right wing spot.
Both teams should be at full strength, with no injury news to report.
In the picks analysis for game five, we looked at Marcus Smart, his role in coming off the bench for Boston, his contributions across the board, and the regularity of his minutes versus the irregularity of his nightly output. That continues as ever. After a 9/11/6 outing in game five, Smart again played 28 minutes in game six, yet this time recorded only 1 point, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Smart’s defensive pressure is consistent, yet his offensive output is markedly inconsistent. It could be ten or twelve points that he gets tonight just as easily as it could be a goose egg. It is known only that he will play big minutes for a bench player.
Similarly consistent in his minutes is Marcin Gortat, who once again recorded the double digits rebounds he is very reliable at getting right now. He had 13 on the game in only 25 minutes, alongside two assists, a steal and a block. Gortat did however take only three shots for four points, and is not being featured offensively in the series. So as reliable as he is for rebounds, and being the best candidate for blocks in the entire series, Gortat’s contributions comparative to his fantasy cost must take into account the relatively muted offensive production.
Game sevens were not made for bench players. Rotations will be very thin, and the highest quality players will play as many minutes as they can managed sans fatigue. There is therefore limited value in looking beyond the front six or seven guys for each team, which means Kelly Oubre, whom we have looked at a couple of times in this series, might struggle for minutes.
Bojan Bogdanovic will be called upon to shoot from the bench, as always, which could go either way, as always. But the rest of the bench players will, barring their exceptional performances or fouls and injuries to starters, will likely only provide breathers. This means Oubre will play limited minutes behind Otto Porter (36 minutes in game six) and Markieff Morris (39 minutes), despite his scoring output earlier in the series. And with a zero point performance of his own in game six, that scoring aberration might now have ended anyway.
The same is true for Boston, who will have Smart as a sixth man and Kelly Olynyk as the seventh, but whom will very likely not look beyond them in any meaningful way. And while Amir Johnson seems to have won back the starting power forward spot – and look much spryer than usual in game five, perhaps over his ankle troubles – he nevertheless records few minutes, as the Celtics counter Washington’s size advantage through Morris and Gortat with a spread floor and plenty of three-guard line-ups.
Can Avery Bradley Continue Hot Streak?
We look hereafter only amongst the starters, then, whereupon Avery Bradley draws the eye. Bradley continues his break-out performance of game five with a strong game six showing, scoring 27 points on 18 shots alongside four steals and three rebounds. His starting shooting guard counterpart Bradley Beal had his best game of the series in game six, a 33 point outing on 15-26 shooting, including 14-18 from two point range.
Beal continues to lack for his three point shot, shooting only 10-38 from outside on the series, and only 6-31 after game one. Nevertheless, both he and Bradley are the offensive counterparts to the star point guards, and it is plenty foreseeable that the winner of this series will be the team whose most immediate sidekick steps up further. As the cheaper pick of the two, Bradley may represent better fantasy value.
Wall v IT
The star point guards, John Wall and Isaiah Thomas, are certainly having an effect on the series, but not in the dominant performances one would have expected. Wall’s huge shot to win the game overshadowed a fairly tepid overall performance – he had shot only 8-24 prior to it, alongside eight assists and two blocks, and never got Gortat and Porter (a combined four points, a combined eight shots) involved offensively.
Smart and Bradley make for excellent on-ball or off-ball guard defenders, and Wall and Beal are the only two guards that need guarding (third guard Brandon Jennings is shooting 18% for the series and has been a total non-factor). Conversely, Thomas has had an inconsistent series, recording 27 points and 7 assists in game six, but shooting 8-24 of his own and giving up five turnovers along the way. The Wizards are not trapping and blitzing him often (nor nearly as often as they should), but when they do, it works, and Wall’s individual defense on him with his size and athleticism advantages are a problem Thomas has yet to fully overcome.
Whatever has gone before, though, these two are the All-Stars. These are the leaders, the foundations, and the primary playmakers. For all the team basketball in the world, game sevens were made for stars to shine. It is where superstars are born, and legacies are created. This is their time. At least one will come through.
Pick whichever you think will have the bigger game. I’d go for Wall.