With three of their four regular big men in health and safety protocol as the result of Robert Williams’ positive COVID-19 test on Thursday, the Celtics trotted out the NBA’s version of a hobbit squad Friday night.
Daniel Theis and Tacko Fall were the only remaining serious size options, and though the latter made his presence felt with three blocks and a huge fourth-quarter putback, this game was all about speed until both sides started firing blanks down the stretch.
At one point Washington managed to cut the Celtics lead from 28 points down to four, but the Celtics, behind Jayson Tatum’s 32-point performance, pulled out a 116-107 win.
Tatum’s hometown friend — St. Louis born and raised Bradley Beal — countered with 41 points.
Jaylen Brown continued his torrid season with a 27-point performance.
Both sides had gone into a freeze when, with 2:08 left, Brown hit from the left corner for a 109-101 lead.
Washington’s Davis Bertans was called for a moving screen, and Brown, after rebounding a Theis miss, drew the foul attempting a dunk. The Celtics inbounded, and Marcus Smart was fouled fighting for a rebound. He hit the first of two with 1:31 left, this time for a 110-101 lead.
Beal converted off the drive, but Tatum matched him down the other end over Thomas Bryant for a 112-103 lead. Bryant scored, but Tatum put it away from the baseline.
A Beal-led surge cut the Celtics lead from 28 points down to 15 by the end of the third quarter, as the Celtics got a little too caught up in their own offensive success.
Tatum had 26 by the end of the third, and Brown another 24. Beal, with 37 points on 14-for-25 shooting, was soaring. Russell Westbrook, clearly ticked at the calls he was getting, had 12.
Washington had cut the Celtics lead to 10 points within the first 1:30 of the fourth on four straight points from Ish Smith, and when the Celtics came out of an ensuing timeout, Jeff Teague threw the ball away.
What followed was a mash of misses and turnovers on both sides. Though, courtesy of a Westbrook 3-pointer with 7:32 left, the Wizards cut the Celtics lead to 99-95.
Fall missed two free throws when given the opportunity to halt the skid, but Tatum hit from downtown the next time down.
Smart, fouled on the following possession, hit twice for a 104-95 lead with 6:06 left. Brown tied up a rebound, won the jump ball, and Fall fought for the rebound off a Smart miss and dunked the conversion for a 106-95 lead with 5:05 left.
Bertans’ 3-pointer cut the C’s lead to 106-98, and after Tatum and Beal exchanged misses, followed by a Payton Pritchard illegal screen call, Bertans hit again, this time from the top of the arc.
The misses continued until, with 2:08 left, Brown hit a left corner trey for a 109-101 edge.
Tatum and Beal have everything in common, from the same trainer (Drew Hanlen) to the same hometown (St. Louis), to countless games of one-on-one.
And last night — from Tatum’s business-first deadpan to Beal’s nonstop smile — they were clearly enjoying the renewal.
By halftime, with the Celtics getting the better of the rapid pace with a 66-47 lead, Tatum (19 points) and Beal (18) had combined for 37 points on 16-for-26 shooting. But the Celtics had an additional weapon. Brown stepped in during one particularly contentious stretch with seven straight points, and finished the half with 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
The Celtics started the third quarter with the same force, putting together a 10-2 run for a 76-49 lead over the first three minutes.
They hit a peak lead of 28 points before the Wizards, almost entirely behind Beal, cut the Celtics cushion down to a floating 20 points.
Tatum had 26 points and Brown another 24 by the end of the third with the Celtics leading, 96-81.