Wizards, Celtics have di≠er­ent ob­sta­cles to over­come in Game 7

The Washington Post Sunday - - BASEBALL - BY ADAM KILGORE adam.kilgore@wash­post.com

In the sullen vis­it­ing locker room late Fri­day night, the Bos­ton Celtics changed back into the black clothes they had worn into Ver­i­zon Cen­ter. Though they de­nied the ob­vi­ous pur­pose, the col­lec­tive wardrobe had a clear in­tent. The Celtics wanted to host the fu­neral for the Wash­ing­ton Wizards’ sea­son, a nod to what the Wizards wore dur­ing a reg­u­lar sea­son meet­ing be­tween teams that share animus to­ward one another. The threads, when pulled back late at night, rep­re­sented only missed op­por­tu­nity.

“We let this one slip away,” Celtics for­ward Jae Crow­der said. “We feel like we did ev­ery­thing to give our­selves a chance to win.”

The Celtics led Game 6 by five points with less than 90 sec­onds re­main­ing. They led by two with less than five sec­onds left. And yet, af­ter John Wall’s three-pointer gave the Wizards a 92-91, sea­son-sav­ing vic­tory, the Celtics and Wizards will meet one fi­nal time, on Mon­day night in Bos­ton, for the right to ad­vance to the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals.

In the 72 hours be­tween Wall stand­ing on the scorer’s ta­ble and Game 7 tip­ping off at TD Gar­den, the Wizards and Celtics will face dis­parate chal­lenges. The Wizards must find a way to win on the road, which nei­ther team has man­aged in the se­ries or in any of their four reg­u­lar sea­son meet­ings. The Celtics must find a way not to let the bit­ter­ness of Game 6 trickle into Game 7, to make sure one crush­ing night doesn’t con­tam­i­nate another.

“It’s a tough one to swal­low,” Crow­der said. “But you got to bounce back. You can’t dwell on it too long, or it can roll over into Game 7. You don’t want that to hap­pen.”

The Celtics en­tered Game 6 with bravado. They marched through the Ver­i­zon Cen­ter cor­ri­dors sport­ing black cloth­ing, ex­pect­ing they would end the se­ries Fri­day night and pre­pare for the Cleve­land Cava­liers. Af­ter­ward, the Celtics in­sisted the out­fits had come to­gether as pure co­in­ci­dence.

“It was kind of some­thing that just hap­pened,” guard Avery Bradley said. “Terry [Rozier] looked at me and said, ‘He’s got on black.’ We looked around the locker room, and ev­ery­body had on black. We didn’t plan it. It just hap­pened.”

Isa­iah Thomas, the Celtics’ point guard and scor­ing en­gine, said he had no se­cond thoughts about the black at­tire and in­sisted he would have no earthly rea­son to. “I wear black all the time,” Thomas said. “I was the first one in the gym, too, so I didn’t see no­body else wear­ing black.”

What­ever the Celtics said, their sar­to­rial state­ment back­fired, es­pe­cially when they had to look around their locker room af­ter­ward and see a re­minder of what could have been.

“It makes you want to go play Game 7 to­mor­row,” Crow­der said. “It’s so close. We’ll get another chance at it, and we’ll cap­i­tal­ize on it.”

The Celtics were buoyed for good rea­son. The Wizards have won all six of their home games but have gone 1-5 on the road in the play­offs, in­clud­ing three losses in this se­ries. Head­ing home will make it eas­ier for the Celtics to shake their bru­tal fin­ish in Game 6.

“We’re ex­cited,” Thomas said. “It hurts right now, be­cause we just lost. But we have noth­ing to hold our heads down about. We’re go­ing to take a few days to fig­ure out our ad­just­ments, and then win Game 7.”

The Wizards can draw on two dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences in Bos­ton. They had a chance to win their first two games there, open­ing Game 1 with 16 con­sec­u­tive points and miss­ing two last-se­cond shots at the end of reg­u­la­tion in Game 2. Those near-misses pro­vide con­fi­dence but also the les­son Game 5 ham­mered home: They can­not af­ford lapses. The Celtics blew the Wizards out. The Wizards seemed bizarrely be­wil­dered from the open­ing tip, never matched the Celtics’ ef­fort and were never in the game.

“We have to have the will to win,” Wash­ing­ton for­ward Marki­eff Mor­ris said. “Know­ing that we’re on the road, we have to play great. We have to be on call for ev­ery­thing. We can’t let plays go by. Ev­ery pos­ses­sion is go­ing to count.”

From the start, the se­ries has seemed on an in­evitable track for a sev­enth game. They are wildly dif­fer­ent ros­ters — Wash­ing­ton thrives on a wickedly ef­fi­cient start­ing five and has to sur­vive a shoddy bench, while the Celtics have waves of ca­pa­ble role play­ers sur­round­ing the jit­ter­bug bril­liance of Thomas. The dis­par­ity has cre­ated even­ness. The Wizards and Celtics cre­ated bad blood in the reg­u­lar sea­son, and six games have not been enough to set­tle it for good.

The sev­enth will. It will be played in Bos­ton, but the Wizards will en­ter with mo­men­tum and the Celtics will be try­ing to ditch their re­gret. Only one team will sur­vive.

“That’s where all the great play­ers make their name,” Thomas said. “You got to give it ev­ery­thing you got. That’s I guess where leg­ends are born. We couldn’t take of busi­ness tonight. Un­be­liev­able shot by John Wall. To have Game 7 back in the Gar­den, if you would say that back in Oc­to­ber, that we’d be in Game 7 in the se­cond round, a lot of peo­ple wouldn’t be­lieve that.

“Game 7 in Bos­ton, we wouldn’t want it no other way. Other than win­ning tonight.”

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