WASHINGTON — John Wall darted, dashed and dished from all over the court in Tuesday’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between his Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics.
The performance was MVP worthy and solid enough to be the headliner on most nights. Just not that night, as the smallest player on the court rose above all.
The best-of-seven series could be short if the Wizards cannot keep Isaiah Thomas in check.
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Thomas scored 53 points — 29 during the fourth quarter and overtime — as Boston pulled away for a 129-119 win over Washington. The Celtics lead 2-0 in the series with the next two matchups on the Wizards’ home court, starting with Thursday’s Game 3.
Maybe playing on familiar turf will help Washington’s defenders deal with the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Considering he’s thriving on the court despite all that life has thrown his way in recent days, who knows if stopping Thomas is any playbook?
On Saturday, Thomas attended the funeral of his sister, Chyna, who died in a car accident last month. His latest breathtaking performance — he scored one less point than the entire Washington team over the final 17 minutes — came on what would have been his sister’s 23rd birthday. It also came the same day Thomas endured dental surgery after having a tooth knocked out in Game 1.
“What else is there to say?” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of his team’s leading man. “You know, there’s a point today when he was not feeling good at all, and was having a tough day, and I thought he was going to really have to gut this one out. And he not only guts it out, he ends up with (53). Pretty impressive.”
Wall was quite impressive for the Wizards, finishing with 40 points, 13 assists, three steals and three blocks. Fueled by its point guard and a gutty performance from starting power forward Markieff Morris, Washington led 110-104 with 2:43 remaining in regulation.
Boston tied the game on back-to-back 3-pointers by Thomas and Terry Rozier. After an Otto Porter 3-pointer put Washington up 114-112, Thomas again tied the game, sinking two free throws with 14 seconds left.
Wall and Bradley Beal missed jump shots for Washington on the final possession of regulation.
“It was tough. We had opportunities to win this game,” Wall said. “Last 2-3 minutes, (we) had the opportunities to make shots, but we missed some good looks. They came down and made some tough shots. They made shots that we missed.”
All of Washington’s starters scored in double figures, including 14 from Beal, but his line included 1-of-9 shooting on 3-pointers.
Morris exited Game 1 with a sprained ankle after landing on the foot of Boston’s Al Horford. His status for Tuesday’s contest was unclear until the pre-game introductions.
Announced with the starters, Morris had 16 points in 27 minutes. He also helped set the game’s physical tone by shoving Horford out of bounds as the two tussled for a loose ball.
“He adds a lot to our team with toughness,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of Morris. “He’s a very physical, tough player. He competes; he’s done everything for us throughout this season.”
The same can be said of Thomas, who came up one point shy of the franchise record for points in a playoff game. John Havlicek scored 54 in 1973.
“I didn’t know I was close to 50. I was just so locked in that fourth quarter and overtime because I wanted to win the game so bad that I really didn’t know what I had,” Thomas said. “I just knew that I had to keep being aggressive. … It’s nice for your name to be in Celtics history because of all the great players, but until you win one of those Championships you can’t call yourself a great player until you do that. That is the ultimate goal.”
Washington won both home regular-season games against Boston.