C’s Aim to Fix Early-Game Struggles vs. Wizards

The Boston Celtics have dominated quarters two through four during the first three games of their second-round series with the Washington Wizards.

Quarter one, on the other hand, has been a major issue for the C’s on all three occasions.

Washington has outscored Boston 119-70 during the first quarters of the series, meaning the Celtics have spent much of their time playing from behind.

In Games 1 and 2, Boston managed to battle back from early, double-digit deficits. It outscored the Wizards 199-150 during quarters two and beyond, and jumped out to a 2-0 series lead.

During Thursday’s Game 3, however, the C’s fell into a 22-point, first-quarter hole, which was too much to overcome as they fell 116-89.

Coach Brad Stevens believes that the team is fortunate to have a 2-1 advantage in the series based on its slow starts.

“There’s no question that that’s been a major issue against them for most teams, but certainly for us,” Stevens said Friday afternoon via conference call. “I think that it’s a lot less about talking about it and just doing it. That’s the bottom line: We have to play better out of the gate than we’ve played. And that’s not just last night; that’s all three games of this series and a few of the games during the regular season.”

So how do they get over the hump and actually do it? What do they change?

“It’s still the same game plan as far as what we want to attack and who we want to attack,” Jae Crowder said following Thursday’s loss. “It’s just about having a different mindset moving on to Game 4. Imposing our will more and earlier in the game, not playing from behind, not playing hesitant and not playing on our heels.”

Boston’s plethora of early turnovers has been the root of its first-quarter issues against the Wizards. During the opening frames of Games 2 and 3, the Celtics committed 15 turnovers while Washington committed only one.

Those mistakes would often turn into fast break points on the other end for the Wizards, and high-energy transition plays often serve as momentum-boosters.

“We just have to shore up everything,” said Kelly Olynyk. “We can’t give them easy things to get going. We have to make sure we are executing offensively. No transition stuff, no second-chance points. That kind of stuff gets the ball rolling for them.”

Stevens could potentially shake up the starting rotation to see if that gets the ball rolling for Boston in Game 4. He’s already gone back and forth from starting Gerald Green in Game 1, to starting Amir Johnson in Game 2, and then back to starting Green in Game 3.

However, as the coach pointed out, one player cannot be the answer to curb Boston’s early troubles.

“I think that we just have to find the best group for us to complement one another against their best group,” said Stevens. “So we’ll have those discussions and we’ll figure it out, but it’s not just about who starts the game as far as the fifth guy there. We all need to start the game – starters and bench – in the first quarter better together.”

Boston has two days to figure that out before they take the court Sunday evening for Game 4 at Verizon Center.