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Isaiah Thomas Loses a Tooth, Brad Stevens Wins the Adjustment Game

The Celtics won Game 1 through fighting back and exploiting the absence of Markieff Morris

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics decided to take the road less traveled Sunday: They opted to make winning extremely difficult. They beat the Washington Wizards 123–111, but only after taking off half of the first quarter and about a third of the fourth quarter. The Wizards began the game 16–0 and opened the fourth quarter on a 9–0 run. Maybe the Celtics are working on their in-game flip-switching assuming that they’ll be meeting Cleveland in the conference finals, and the Cavs have already perfected the art. Regardless, Boston hit 19 3-pointers, which makes up for the lapses and excessive fouling.

When the Game Turned

This turned into a ballgame after nearly six minutes had elapsed in the first quarter. If you checked Twitter at any point during this game, you likely already know that this is about the time that Isaiah Thomas lost a tooth after colliding with Otto Porter Jr. Keep your eyes open for the little white thing flying from his mouth.

Thomas’s postseason could not be more challenging considering he has been playing through grief following the death of his sister two weeks ago — and playing through the draining travel to see his family, who are in Tacoma, Washington. A missing tooth wouldn’t hold him back, and it jump-started an incredible sequence for the Celtics.

Porter’s elbow won that possession, but Marcus Smart grabbed the Celtics’ first rebound about 30 seconds later, at the 5:56 mark. That led to a Thomas 3 and his first field goal. He was off. He hit another 3 on the next possession. Teeth: expendable.

Ankles: Less So

As if a toothless, red-hot IT4 were not alarming enough for Wizards fans, Markieff Morris landed on Al Horford’s foot in the second quarter and missed the rest of the game. While there’s no diagnosis yet, let my colleague break down what his absence could mean for the Wizards:

Kevin explained to me further, Washington “played 220 minutes this season with Morris as a small-ball 5 and they outscored opponents by 2.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA Wowy.” Brad Stevens either checked NBA Wowy at the half, too, or is just preternaturally talented at reading matchups, because he exploited the loss of Morris by doing just that. Jae Crowder woke up from a monthlong nap and went off for 11 points in the quarter, including three 3s. Marcin Gortat had been playing like a man demanding to be in the conversation for best NBA European through two quarters, but President Brad’s adjustment made him return to his Round 1 form, which could be characterized as “ineffective” or “poor.”

This Series Needs a Little More Punchiness

The most exciting aspect of the Boston-Washington matchup is each team’s well-documented dislike of the other. Yet, the main story line coming out of Game 1 is that in addition to Thomas’s continued brilliance, his teammates showed up. Crowder is back; Al Horford had 21 points, nine rebounds, and 10 (!) assists, and he counseled Marcus Smart on the bench; Jaylen Brown was subbed in for defensive purposes in the fourth and also hit a much-needed 3; and Avery Bradley lived up to the honor I have unilaterally awarded him: second-most important player on that team. Thomas can’t do it alone all the time, and he didn’t have to.

Meanwhile, the Wizards played true to form. The Wizards’ loss will overshadow John Wall’s first-team-quality passes, Bojan Bogdanovic’s contribution off the bench in the fourth, and Bradley Beal’s clutch shooting — thanks to him, the game was tight in the final minutes. None of these are surprising this deep into the season. So, this is a snooze.

The unsung hero doing the most for this squad is Brandon Jennings. He is the recipient of the Lance Stephenson Award of Non-Basketball Playmaking. Terry Rozier lost a shoe, and Jennings ran over to keep him out of the play for longer by stepping on it.

Brandon Jennings, may you light the way.