Avalanches start in a variety of ways. Excessive rain can rattle already packed snow. Earthquakes or natural movements of animals can dislodge snow. Skiers, snowmobilers, gunshots and explosives have all triggered a sudden and unstoppable onslaught.
Washington’s basketball version began with back-to-back shot-violations. It lasted for 26 consecutive points, filled half of the third quarter and put the Wizards en route to a tied series with top-seeded Boston. Sunday night’s 121-102 win evened the Eastern Conference semifinals at 2-2. Both teams have won twice at home. The series shifts back north for Wednesday’s Game 5 in TD Garden. Since the Wizards left there, the feeling around the matchup has taken a decided turn.
“We had two leads in those first games,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “It basically came down to we had the ball, tie score with 14 or 15 seconds left [in Game 2]. We were one shot from winning that game. It’s not like we can’t go up there and play good basketball.”
Boston could not have been blamed for thinking a 22-0 run by Washington the first quarter of Game 3 would be as bad as it can get. The NBA is so competitive, so loaded with skill, a more prolific run is hard to envision, until it is right in front of you.
The Wizards ceded the first five points of the third quarter Sunday to little-used Amir Johnson. Afterward, a sudden and sustained surge of dominance came. Washington went on a 26-0 fan-pumping run. Back-to-back Boston shot-clock violations started it and Otto Porter’s layup on the break ended it. The unstoppable journey lasted almost 6:30. By the end, Washington was in front, 74-53. Wall skipped through the air after zipping a no-look pass to Porter for his layup.
“Two stretches killed us on this trip to D.C.,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said.
The run was the core of a 42-point quarter that vaulted the Wizards in front, 90-68 before the start of the fourth. It stripped a nip-and-tuck game, turning into further confirmation that the Wizards’ offense is proving diabolical opposition for the Celtics.
“We played inspired basketball for each other,” Brooks said. “We’ve talked about that many times. … Probably our best stretch of basketball.”
Laborious as it was, a 48-48 halftime tie had to carry pleasure for the Wizards. For the first time in the series, they trailed after the first quarter. Washington turned the ball over 10 times in the first half. A game after being handcuffed, Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas was steaming along. He made his first five 3-pointers. The total tied his career-high for 3-pointers made in a postseason game. Thomas finished the half with 17 points. He had 15 points with 10:54 to play in the second quarter, surpassing his 13-point total for Game 3 in a blink before stalling. He finished with just 19 points.
“They were really up into him,” Stevens said.
During Thomas’ early ascension, Wall scuffled. He missed his first nine shots, ending up too deep under the rim or too off on a 3-pointer. The Celtics constructed a 13-point lead during his inaccurate shooting. They also thought they found a defensive remedy by putting Avery Bradley exclusively on Wall. In the first three games, Bradley moved between Wall and Bradley Beal.
Wall’s resurrection began when he checked back in with the Wizards in trouble in the second quarter. He made a 3-pointer, missed one, then hit a midrange shot. Wall was able to fuel the pace and himself. The 0-for-9 start was countered by a 5-for-8 surge to close the half. He briefly gave the Wizards the lead back with a driving layup. They would have walked into the locker room up two points if Marcin Gortat hard converted a point-blank tip-in just before the horn. He missed.
The Wizards’ tension-shattering run in the third quarter rendered all prior activity moot. They go back to Boston — a place they felt they should have won twice before — with a chance at a series lead. They appear to have found a solution to contain Thomas. They appear to have an offense the Celtics cannot stifle. They need two of the next three games to confirm those things as fact.
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