BOSTON — The morning routine was the same. The Washington Wizards stayed in the same hotel as previous visits to Boston during the playoffs. They used the same basketball floor in an adjacent gym to go through shootaround on. Even the weather remained mediocre.
“Now’s our chance,” Bradley Beal said Monday morning.
Washington and Boston have played to a predictable standstill in their Eastern Conference semifinals series, which is knotted at 3-3. Tuesday morning, one team will be going to Cleveland. The other will be going home.
Washington coach Scott Brooks is excited but not feeling pressure. He was up at 4 a.m., “ready to go,” before falling back asleep. He knew that he would not play in Game 7 during his NBA career, so he didn’t feel pressure then, either. Instead, Brooks said he searched out the best towel to wave all night.
“There’s a reason why we’re 3-3,” Brooks said. “We’re evenly matched. A lot of good players. A lot of great effort. A lot of great moments on both teams. Game 7s are fun. There’s not a lot of them. This is the first one this postseason. It gives both teams an opportunity to play another game.”
Brooks has been loose through the process. Before Game 6, when Boston had a chance to eliminate the Wizards in the District, Brooks made multiple jokes with the press. He delivered more comedy Monday, making fun of himself and how the media views coaching. Brooks is working with a dual emphasis: For Brooks, the pressure is anchored in playing hard, an argument he has made all season. That doesn’t change in the final game of a playoff series. Also, this is supposed to be fun.
“As a kid, you don’t dream about making the last shot in an exhibition game,” Brooks said. “You always make it in a Game 7.”
“Last game was more pressure because we was down one,” John Wall said. “Now, it’s even.”
Brooks, who is 2-0 as a coach in Game 7s, swatted aside the thought of delivering a motivating speech before the game.
“We shouldn’t have to say anything,” Brooks said.
Washington needs to find multiple solutions Monday night. Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley has scored 56 points in the last two games. Boston has also hurt Washington be leaking out after missed shots. Last, the team that has led rebounding in the 10 games between the teams this season has won eight times.
“There’s a fine line of crashing the boards,” Brooks said. “We’ve had some success getting offensive rebounds against this team and they’ve given some up. We have to be able to pick and choose. If you’re in the vicinity of rebounding, you have to go attack and hit the glass. But, if you’re not, those first three steps [to get back] are critical.”
This game has slid the Wizards into a strange place. They, the least followed of the four major pro sports teams in Washington, have a chance to snap the city’s streak of not making a conference final since 1998. They can undo, at least in part, the recent lamentation about the failings of Washington sports, a wallowing that is well on the path to being overblown. Just one win and the point of reference for the streak goes away. Just one win and the Wizards return to the conference finals for the first time since 1979. Just one win and they are no longer winless in Boston this season. Just one win and LeBron is next.
“It is a big deal,” Beal said. “We’re not going to sit here and says it’s not.”
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