1.) John Wall vs Isaiah Thomas in the fourth quarter for Game 7, who do you have and why?
Bryan Toporek: John Wall, mostly because he plays defense. Thomas (8.0 points on 42.4 percent shooting) has outscored Wall (5.0 points on 50.0 percent shooting) throughout the fourth quarters in this series, but that’s solely due to a higher number of field-goal attempts. Wall, meanwhile, will not be the glaring defensive liability that the self-proclaimed “King of the Fourth” is. Thomas is the better shooter of the two, so I’d trust him more with a last-second, game-winning three-point attempt (despite Wall’s heroics at the end of Game 6), but Wall’s superior two-way play makes him the better option here.
Morten Stig Jensen: John Wall due to his all-around stability and his current decision to break out as the league’s second-best point guard (I said it). As great as Thomas is, and let’s not pretend he isn’t, the slip in defense is just too great to be able to trust him over Wall. Offensively, Thomas is a better raw scorer, which will come in handy, but in a Game 7 scenario, being able to play both ends is a flat-out necessity. Over the past four games, Thomas is averaging 19.3 points on 39 percent shooting from the floor, in part due to him not being able to consistently overcome Wall’s defensive prowess. Add in the swagger Wall seems to be developing this year, and it’s impossible for me to not with the former top pick.
Torkil Bang: If it were a simple question of who the better overall player is, I would go with John Wall, who’s been the most consistent player in the series. And while Wall hit the game-winner in Game 6, Isaiah Thomas showed he can also be a liability in end-of-game situations.
And yet, I would hate to bet against Thomas in the fourth quarter, especially in the TD Garden. He has proven time and again that’s a very bad idea. And for that alone, I will go with Thomas.
Brandon Jefferson: Isaiah Thomas. The fourth quarter has been rebranded as “IT Time” during the 2016-17 NBA season. It’s been much the same throughout the Celtics’ opening two rounds of the playoffs. Thomas might be diminutive in stature, but it’s all about heart over height for the Seattle native in the final 12 minutes. Wall is carrying the clutch torch into this decisive game following his game-winning three and Rick James-like disrespect for furniture. If you need any reminding about how deadly Thomas can be in the final frame go back and watch his 53-point performance in Game 2 at TD Garden (where Game 7 just so happens to be held too).
2.) At this point in the series, are there any adjustments you can see either team making?
Bryan Toporek: I doubt either side reinvents the wheel in Game 7. For the Wizards, I’d like to see them exploit Thomas whenever he guards Otto Porter, as the fourth-year forward’s clear size advantage should not go to waste in those situations. The Celtics relied more frequently on Jae Crowder as a playmaker in Game 6, which they’ll likely do again Monday evening. Running Thomas off the ball and tapping into Crowder and Al Horford as playmakers should help the little man save his energy for when it counts most — the fourth quarter.
Morten Stig Jensen: Getting Otto Porter involved would be a healthy sign for Washington, although it seems like his scoreless Game 6 was mostly an anomaly. Establishing him early in Game 7 would be a solid strategy, just to give Boston’s defense something else to worry about before unleashing Wall/Beal on them later on. For Boston, I’d consider shaking up the starting line-up and go small right off the bat in hopes of injecting some early offense. But as Bryan said, no one’s inventing the wheel at this point.
Torkil Bang: The Wizards have done a good job of putting Isaiah Thomas in difficult situations on both ends of the floor since game three and will look to do that in game 7.
Brad Stevens rarely uses the same game plan two games in a row, making small or big adjustments in between. He has already switched the starting lineup back and forth between Gerald Green and Amir Johnson. Green even went from starter to completely out of the rotation in the last two games.
Stevens has hardly used Jonas Jerebko in this series (and Jerebko hasn’t played well). But if you look at Celtics lineups in the regular season, Jerebko is present in a handful of the most successful ones. If Brad Stevens has to pull a rabbit out of his hat to outdo the Wizards, it might as well be a Swedish rabbit.
Brandon Jefferson: I think all the cards have been laid on the table by both teams. The main adjustment will be how the Wizards play the bizzaro Al Horford-Isaiah Thomas pick-and-roll. It was the main action that helped Boston in Game 5 and I’m sure Brad Stevens will have his team running it again. Offensively for Washington, they’ve had one of Bradley Beal or Wall going in each of the first six games of this series. If there’s anything that Boston can do to keep the pair in check for Game 7, now would be a good time to unveil it. Overall, the time for adjustments has come and gone. Game 7 will be decided by whichever team is able to better execute their schemes.
3.) The Wizards will win if…
Bryan Toporek: They own the paint on both ends. Through the first six games, they have a substantial 268-233 advantage on the glass and are averaging 50.7 points in the paint compared to Boston’s 37.7. Rebounding has been the Celtics’ Achilles heel dating back to the regular season, so the Wizards need to physically dominate Boston’s bigs offensively and defensively. They lead all teams this round in second-chance points (18.7), and they’re 3-1 in this series when holding the Celtics to 40 points in the paint or fewer.
Morten Stig Jensen: They consistently get into the paint and create chances. Washington’s slash-and-kick game can be devastating, and with Horford the defensive anchor, Washington could take advantage of his not overly athletic movement and get him into early foul trouble. A lot hinges on Horford.
Torkil Bang: Bradley Beal has had great games with efficient high-volume scoring in two out of the Wizards’ three wins. If he can do that again, everything becomes easier for the Wizards. When he gets going it usually means that the rest of the team will get more open shots and that Wall can take the back seat for a moment and save his strength.
Brandon Jefferson: John Wall and Bradley Beal take over. Wall and Beal are two of the four or five best players on either team. Washington will need their A-game in Game 7 if they are going to move on to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
4.) The Celtics will win if…
Bryan Toporek: Someone aside from Isaiah Thomas goes off. While the Wizards routed the Celtics in Games 3 and 4, the only blowout in Boston’s favor came in Game 5, when Avery Bradley erupted for 29 points in 30 minutes. The C’s needed 53 points from IT4 to stave off Washington in Game 2, but Washington promptly proceeded to hold the diminutive floor general to fewer than 20 points in the next three straight games. Whether it’s Bradley, Al Horford, Jae Crowder or Marcus Smart, the Celtics will need some complementary scoring outside of Thomas to finish off the pesky Wizards backcourt of Wall and Bradley Beal.
Morten Stig Jensen: The bench erupts, especially from the outside. Boston is in dire need of a bench assault game where Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart get their scoring game going, easing the offensive pressure from the starting unit. Smart is an excellent post player, and establishing him early in order to let him score/pass out of the post as he deems will suck the defense in, opening the door for the C’s. Horford will need to keep his offense mojo going that he’s had this series.
Torkil Bang: If the Celtics can play the swarming, energetic defense that gave them a head start in Game 5, they will have come a long way. It will also spark the offense from players like Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. And they will probably need more than the five points their bench players provided in Game 6.
Brandon Jefferson: Their supporting cast shows up. While it is no secret that Thomas is their superstar, the strength of the Celtics is their quality depth. On their best nights, Boston could go nine-deep comfortably. We’ve seen a few of those nights in this series and if they want to keep their season going and welcome in Cleveland next round they will need to get the best out of their entire roster.
5.) Who wins and why?
Bryan Toporek: My heart says Washington — mostly because I prefer a Cavaliers-Wizards Eastern Conference Finals — but my brain says Boston. The home team has won all 10 matchups between these two squads dating back to the regular season, although the Wizards blew double-digit leads in Games 1 and 2, suggesting they could steal one here. That said, having lived in Washington for eight years, I know how this story ends: The Wizards jump out to yet another early double-digit lead, then proceed to choke it away in the most crushing fashion imaginable.
Morten Stig Jensen: Washington. Screw home-court advantage for Boston. This is John Wall’s official coming-out party, and he’ll love nothing more than to change the epically sad history of Washington sports. Yes, it’s an emotional choice. Sue me.
Torkil Bang: Boston. I still believe that it will be the home court advantage that decides it because the two teams are very close in top performance and it could come down to the tiniest bit of home cooking or a boost of energy from the crowd to keep the defense flying in the fourth quarter to bring it home.
Brandon Jefferson: Wizards. It’s been nearly 40 years since the Washington basketball franchise has played in a Game 7 (1979 against the Spurs as the Bullets). The Celtics will be playing in a league-high 30th Game 7 as a franchise. There’s history to be made on both sides, yet I think John Wall continues his breakout season by leading the Wizards to victory on the road.
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