Isaiah Thomas burned the Wizards in Boston through the first two games of this series. After a very impressive Game 1 performance where Thomas scored 33 points, he scored 53 in Game 2 with 29 of those coming in the fourth quarter and overtime periods. There were a lot of opinions on what the Wizards should do to stop the little giant and in Game 3 on Thursday night; the Wizards made all of the right adjustments.
First off, the Wizards made Thomas work on the defensive end. If Thomas was guarding Wall, the Wizards would run the pick-and-roll with Gortat as the 5’9 Thomas could not fight over that mountain of a screen.
Once Washington exploited that matchup, coach Brad Stevens moved Thomas onto Bradley Beal. Scott Brooks countered this by running Beal off of screens. Once again, Thomas was put in a position where he had to fight through a Gortat screen and Beal was able to cash in with easy jumpers.
Lastly, the Celtics tried hiding Thomas on Otto Porter. That didn’t work out too well either. In Game 2, Wall, Beal, and Kelly Oubre tried posting up Thomas with only Wall having any real success. Last night, Washington ran isolation plays for Porter to catch the ball at the elbow, clear out the strong side of the court, and let the taller Porter go to work. Porter capitalized with two post-up jumpers he was able to get up without much of a challenge:
Defensively, Washington made several adjustments that threw Thomas off of his game. He finished the night with just 13 points on 3-8 shooting and missed both of his three-point attempts.
The game plan in the first half was the same as Game 1 & 2. Wall and Beal went over screens as the Wizards did not want to relinquish any clean three-point attempts. And while that strategy worked in the first half, they added another adjustment to keep Boston from making a comeback in the second half.
Bradley Beal was the primary defender on Thomas in the third quarter and the Wizards played him differently as a result. Markieff Morris or Marcin Gortat would show, allowing the screener to roll and forcing Thomas to go around the screen as the defender recovered or try to split the defense. As you can see here, the show from Morris allows Beal to recover enabling him to catch up with Thomas.
This is something that Washington did not do in Games 1 and 2.
Lastly, the Wizards exerted a great amount of desperation and hustle plays that we weren’t seeing in prior games. Back in Boston, when a high screen-and-roll was set, Wall and Beal looked like they were blindfolded running through a forest as they ran right into screens and gave up on the play shortly thereafter. This allowed Thomas to shoot open threes and pull up in the midrange where he is very dangerous and effective. That was not the case Thursday evening as rotations were crisp and players were able to recover resulting contested shots around the rim.
The Wizards played with an edge and tenacity on defense that was absent in Games 1 and 2. In fact, this was the first time since January 27th that Washington held an opponent under 90 points.
Now the Wizards have a blueprint that they can use and continue to add new wrinkles to in order to keep Thomas boxed in. It’s no easy task, but it’s pretty clear that if you can shut down Thomas, you can shut down the Celtics’ offense. If the Wizards make Thomas work hard on the defensive end and throw a bunch of different looks at him on the offensive end, it’ll give the Wizards a much better chance to win Game 4.