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Celtics gain full control of 2 seed with convincing win over Wizards

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) is congratulated by Jae Crowder after a basket against the Washington Wizards during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, March 20, 2017. Thomas scored 25 points as the Celtics defeated the Wizards 110-102. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The Washington Wizards held a “funeral” for the Boston Celtics the last time the two Eastern Conference contenders squared off in late January. The Wizards may have “killed” the Celtics in that game, but Boston returned the favor Monday night and may have buried Washington’s chances for the No. 2 seed in a game that featured more chippy play between two squads that don’t really care for each other.

The Celtics’ convincing 110-102 win — the final score isn’t an indication of how this game went — has them 2.5 games up on the Wizards for that second seed in the East. The two sides finish the season series with a 2-2 split, but Boston’s significant advantage in conference record (29-13 to 26-18) has them in line to earn the tiebreaker.

Isaiah Thomas returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with a knee injury, and while he clearly wasn’t 100 percent he again led the Celtics in scoring with 25 points on 7-of-19 shooting. Thomas’ mere presence was a boon to an offense that struggled against the lowly Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers without him. Boston’s final shooting percentage of 42.6 percent wasn’t particularly impressive, but that was largely thanks to a rough fourth quarter (6-of-21) that allowed Washington to cut a huge deficit to six before falling short. The Celtics still had an offensive rating over 118 with Thomas on the floor, per NBA.com.

While the final margin was in single digits, Boston mostly dominated this game after the Wizards got off to a fast start behind Bradley Beal’s hot shooting. The Celtics quickly flipped a seven-point deficit into a two-point lead at the end of the first quarter and built on that lead over the next two quarters to take a 17-point lead into the final frame. They really took off after a skirmish between Terry Rozier and Brandon Jennings resulted in double technicals in a tie game early in the second quarter:

Boston got strong performances from throughout the roster, with Thomas leading five players in double figures. Avery Bradley — who didn’t play in the last two meetings — had 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while Al Horford also stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, nine rebounds and five boards. Marcus Smart added 10 points off the bench, and he helped make up for another poor shooting night (3-of-9) with two key plays late to seal the victory. After the Celtics’ lead dwindled to six, Smart scored a bucket in the post and then ripped Bogan Bogdanovic on a drive to the bucket to stop the bleeding.

Boston also used a surprising advantage to secure this victory: rebounding. The Celtics entered the night 27th in overall rebound percentage, but they outrebounded the Wizards by a 54-39 margin. 20 of those 54 rebounds were of the offensive variety, leading to 22 second chance points. Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder were key factors in this area with four offensive boards apiece, and Olynyk’s overall energy level was a key off the bench. The big man had nine points and 11 rebounds in only 18 minutes of play.

The Celtics’ defense did its part as well by forcing 18 turnovers and holding the Wizards to 43 percent shooting overall and a woeful 8-of-35 from three. Boston seemed to have more pep in its step against a Washington team that’s now lost four of its last five games. The Toronto Raptors have somewhat quietly crept to a game behind the Wizards for the No. 3 seed, so John Wall and Co. need to figure things out to snap out of this funk.

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