Why the key to the Celtics-Wizards series isn’t what you think

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics beat the Washington Wizards 123-101 on Wednesday, taking Game 5 and seizing a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Early odds on press row have Washington favored by double digits in Game 6.

What a series. What a strange, unpredictable series. The home teams haven’t been good – they have been great. The road teams haven’t been bad – they have been largely awful. The average margin of victory has been 18 points. Boston battered Washington by 10 or more points in each of the first two games. On Wednesday, they led at one point by 26. A stingy Wizards defense held Boston to 89 points in Game 3. In Game 5, the Celtics’ 3-point percentage (48.5 percent) nearly matched their overall shooting clip (52.9 percent). The Wizards are one of the NBA’s best transition teams. In the first quarter, Boston scored 15 fast-break points. The Wizards? They scored none.

The underrated Avery Bradley had 29 points in Game 5. (AP)

So what do you make of this series, Scott Brooks?

“I’ve been in many [playoff series]. It seems like [in this one] each team has a comfort level at home,” the Wizards coach said. “Hopefully that remains until the last game. Don’t know why. I thought we would come out better tonight. They are not going to miss layups in transition when there is no one in front of you. That’s simple basketball.”

And you, Brad Stevens?

“I don’t think we can react enough to sometimes the ball goes in, sometimes it doesn’t, right?” said the Celtics coach. “I mean, we made a ton of shots. I think they did a really great job [in Washington] of taking it to us and being more physical and being the better team. And we had to respond to that.”

Here’s what the focus has been on this series: The stars. Isaiah Thomas’ 53 points in Game 2. John Wall’s 27 points and 12 assists in Game 4. Al Horford – he of the $113 million contract that Celtics fans have all but attached to his last name – recorded his ninth straight game of 10-plus points on at least 50 percent shooting in Game 5. He’s making 56.6 percent of his threes this postseason, too.

Here’s what the focus should be on: The role players. The supporting casts. The reserves. Each coach will tell you: The team with the most non-stars stepping up this series is going to win it. On Wednesday, it was Avery Bradley. The criminally underrated Bradley – he’s really Jimmy Butler Lite, when you think about it – was everywhere early. He had 14 points in the first quarter. He had 25 at the half. While Thomas eased his way into the game, Bradley took it over.

“Bradley,” Brooks said, “was on fire.”

Bradley didn’t predict this type of performance. Others did. Thomas texted Bradley on Wednesday afternoon, saying that he felt a big game from him coming. Longtime Celtics broadcaster Mike Gorman told Bradley the same. “I knew I haven’t been playing to my ability on the offensive end the last two games,” Bradley said. “I wanted to bring my all. I wanted to take the open shots that were there and make plays for guys.”

And Kelly Olynyk – you know, the NBA’s dirtiest player. The “Olynyk’s dirty” storyline is a little laughable. He’s had a couple of questionable moments – the play that led to Kevin Love’s season-ending injury in the 2015 playoffs, which earned Olynyk a one-game suspension from the NBA, is the most prominent – but the career scorecard on Olynyk speaks volumes. No flagrant fouls. No ejections. No reputation of any kind. An informal poll of six NBA coaches and scouts largely affirmed that. Five said no, they don’t see Olynyk as a dirty player. One said yes, but was quick to add that, “[Marcin] Gortat is dirtier.”

Olynyk (eight points) played well on Wednesday. Fact: As Olynyk’s 3-point shot goes, so go the Celtics. Boston was 26-6 when Olynyk shot 38 percent or better from three during the regular season. On Wednesday, he made one of two. He was greeted by a thunderous ovation from the 18,000-plus in attendance. Kelly Oubre – whose charge at Olynyk in Game 3 kick-started this whole conversation – was met by something different. A “We want Oubre!” chant in the first half shifted to one a little more colorful in the second.

Oubre (13 points) was decent, but Washington needs more from its role players. Markieff Morris impacted both ends of the floor in the two games in Washington. He didn’t do much on either in Game 5. Oubre (5-of-10) made shots. Bojan Bogdanovic, Brandon Jennings and Ian Mahinmi (a combined 3-of-13) didn’t.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight,” Brooks said. “Did they make us miss, or did we miss a lot of shots? We had an off shooting night.”

It’s off to Washington on Friday, and who knows what to expect?

“I think the most important thing for us is getting off to a great start,” Bradley said.

Equally important: Getting those without All-Star credentials going. If Olynyk and Marcus Smart play well, Boston wins. If Morris and Bogdanovic play better, Washington will. The battle of the backcourts has been fun to watch. But what decides this strange series will likely be something else.

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