2017 NBA Playoffs
2017 NBA Playoffs

Washington Wizards must be judicious in attacking for offensive rebounds to protect transition defense

In Game 5, Boston Celtics' aggressive transition offense spurred by Wizards crashing boards, guards unable to finish at rim

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com


May 11, 2017 7:00 PM ET

Avery Bradley and the Celtics has many uncontested shots against the Wizards in Game 5.

BOSTON --The Eastern Conference semifinals series between the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards has been a pretty stark contrast to some of the Eastern Conference postseason basketball we've seen over the last several years.

After a regular season that set a record in regard to offensive efficiency - 106.2 points scored per 100 possessions was the highest mark since the league started counted turnovers in 1977 - teams have scored more efficiently in the playoffs. And with both teams scoring more than 110 points per 100 possessions, the Celtics-Wizards series has been a big part of that.

Boston and Washington have the two highest turnover rates in the conference semis, but both teams have shot well, gone to the free throw line often, and given themselves second chances.

The Wizards, playing a bottom-five defensive rebounding team, have grabbed 31 percent of available offensive rebounds in the series, the highest mark for any team in any series thus far this postseason. Marcin Gortat has more offensive rebounds (25) than Al Horford has defensive rebounds (23) over the five games.

Offensive rebounds are great. Teams generally score more efficiently on second chances than they do on initial possessions. But in this series, if you try for an offensive rebound, you had better make sure you get it, because transition points have been critical in all five games.

Transition defense is obviously important for the Celtics, because John Wall can be lethal in the open floor. The Wizards' 26-0 run in their Game 4 win on Sunday featured a lot of Wall leading the break after Boston live-ball turnovers. Washington's 13 steals were tied for the third most in a playoff game this year.

But after their Game 5 loss in Boston on Wednesday, the Wizards also have to make transition defense more of a priority, because it was on the break where the Celtics took control of the game early, racking up 15 fast break points in the first quarter, even though the Wizards committed just one live-ball turnover in the period.

The Wizards' guards have been able to penetrate in this series. Wall and Bradley Beal have taken 47 percent of their shots in the paint, up from 42 percent in the first round against Atlanta.

But the Celtics have protected the rim well and Wall and Beal have shot just 47 percent in the paint (down from 60 percent against the Hawks). And when those missed shots are rebounded, there are now multiple Wizards in the paint, the guard who just took the shot and a big or two trying for an offensive rebound. There is almost always a guy in the corner, as well.

So if the Celtics can get those rebounds, they have transition opportunities. On Wednesday, they took advantage of them.

"They kind of surprised us," Wall admitted afterward. "When we took shots, they were just leaking out and getting out. They made adjustments. It's something they must have seen on the film, and they killed us with it in the first quarter. We kind of took their fast break points away [after that], but guys were already into a rhythm and making shots."

"We have guys that can penetrate," Wizards coach Scott Brooks added. "But if we miss shots, we all have to get back. Every possession means a lot."

After scoring just 21 points on 24 possessions in the first quarter, the Wizards' offense was better in the second and third. But they couldn't get the stops they needed to put much of a dent in the Boston lead.

The Celtics have shot 48 percent on uncontested jumpers in their three wins and just 31 percent in their two losses. If you listen to enough post-game press conferences, you'll wish you had a dollar for every time someone says that it's "a make-or-miss league."

But makes come more often early in the shot clock than they do later on. In their three wins, the Celtics have taken 20 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock. In their two losses, that number is just 11 percent. The team that has tallied more fast break points is the team that has won all five games.

Brooks believes that early offense early in the game can lead to a boost in confidence throughout the night. The Wizards gave the Celtics a head start in Game 5 and Boston never broke stride.

"When you give a very good team transition points and breakaway points with nobody guarding you, one on zero, it's going to be hard to keep up with them," Brooks said. "We didn't have the appropriate focus we had to have to start the game. We knew they were going to come out aggressive, and they did.

"They made shots, but we gave them so many good opportunities in transition. You do that, the basket becomes bigger. Everybody knows if you make a couple of easy shots, all of a sudden the next shot becomes easier."

So Washington will have to balance their efforts to take advantage of the Celtics on the offensive glass with the need to keep them from getting easy baskets.

"It's just playing smart basketball," Brooks said. "If you have a chance to get an offensive rebound, you go. But if you're in gray areas, you got to sprint back. Those first three steps are critical. If you're going to jog back, you're not going to catch up. The pass is much faster than the legs.

"If you're going to make a costly mistake, an 'Oh crap' moment, you're going to be too late."

The team that wins this series may be the one that eventually plays consistent defense. Doing that starts in transition, and both teams will need to limit their "Oh crap" moments in Game 6 on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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