Just when it appeared Washington fans would have little to worry about besides draft position over the next couple weeks, the short-handed Wizards delivered a dominating victory over one of the NBA’s best teams. Go figure.
Kristaps Porzingis had 32 points and 13 rebounds, and the Wizards boosted their flickering postseason hopes with a 130-111 victory over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.
The Wizards won despite the absence of Bradley Beal (left knee soreness) and Kyle Kuzma (right ankle sprain) and pulled within 2 1/2 games of Chicago for the final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington has six games remaining in the regular season.
“Probably the best pace, for 36-to-40 minutes, that we’ve seen all year,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “After makes, misses, were able to accumulate quite a few fast break points. Not all those were just off of misses. So being able to play with pace and kind of get stuff early in the clock I thought helped us.”
Washington finished with a 19-11 edge in fast break points.
The Celtics had their three-game winning streak snapped and fell to 2 1/2 games behind Milwaukee for the top record in the NBA. Jayson Tatum led Boston with 28 points, but the Celtics trailed 64-51 at halftime, and then their deficit rose to as many as 23 points in the third quarter.
Milwaukee plays at Indiana on Wednesday before a showdown Thursday against the Celtics.
Deni Avdija matched a career high with 25 points and added 10 rebounds for Washington. Monte Morris scored 19 points.
“Trying to make the right decisions, trying to be aggressive,” Avdija said. “I guess I’m just not thinking, I’m just playing my game, making plays for others.”
Jaylen Brown contributed 18 points for the Celtics.
The Wizards went 1 of 8 from 3-point range in the first quarter but still led 29-23. Their shooting picked up in a big way — they finished 13 of 37 from beyond the arc — and Boston never mounted much of a challenge in the second half.
The Celtics substituted liberally in the fourth quarter and actually cut the lead down to 13, but then Avdija had a steal and dunk and the Wizards held on without any trouble.
Unseld had a response to those who suggest the Wizards would be better off losing these games. Washington still has an uphill climb to make the play-in round.
“That might be something that on paper makes sense, but you can’t go in the locker room and tell your team that we’re about winning, we’re about being competitive, and we’re just going to lay down and give games away,” he said. “I think that’s the wrong message.”
After Tuesday’s win, the Wizards (34-42) are a game ahead of Indiana (33-43), 1 1/2 ahead of Portland (32-43) and two up on Orlando (32-44). Falling behind those teams could certainly boost the lottery odds.
“We understand the situation and the fact that that is a potential outcome. It’s not a guarantee,” Unseld said. “If we don’t get some guys back, it is what it is, but we still want to make sure whoever’s available is going to play the right way, compete at a certain standard.”
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