The Wizards shot out of a cannon Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of their second-round series against the Celtics. Washington started the game on a 16-0 run and looked unstoppable offensively. But things changed quickly after the Wizards lost a key member of their starting lineup.
Midway through the second quarter, Wizards forward Markieff Morris went down with an ugly ankle injury after landing on the foot of Celtics center Al Horford. The Wizards announced Morris suffered a sprained left ankle, and he did not return after playing only 11 minutes.
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) April 30, 2017
"(Horford) stepped right under my foot," Morris said after the game. "Not sure if it was intentional or not, probably not. But that's what happened, rolled it on his foot."
Boston had already laid the groundwork for a comeback, trailing 45-42 when Morris exited with 7:16 left in the first half. From that point forward, though, the Celtics outscored the Wizards 81-66 on the way to a 123-111 victory. The Celtics going absolutely insane from the 3-point line certainly helped (19 of 39 from deep as a team), but many of those open attempts came as a result of Morris' absence.
The Celtics' small-ball lineups tortured the Wizards in the second half, and they continually attacked Marcin Gortat in pick-and-rolls, putting the big man in uncomfortable situations. As Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post noted, by the end of the third quarter, the Wizards' starting lineup (John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Morris and Gortat) was plus-13. All other lineups combined were minus-28.
Morris is able to play the four or five position in certain lineups at 6-10 and 245 pounds while providing enough lateral quickness to help and recover or outright switch onto guards. Not only that, he can stretch the floor — he was a 36.2 percent shooter from 3 during the regular season — and force Celtics star Isaiah Thomas to guard somebody on the other end. Brad Stevens can't hide Thomas when the Wizards' starting five is on the floor. Wall, Beal and Porter all provide enough size and scoring punch, and Morris and Gortat are obviously out of the question.
Kelly Oubre Jr. picked up 26 minutes off the bench and scored 12 points, but the second-year man out of Kansas allowed the Celtics to cover up Thomas in the second half, and that meant Thomas had plenty of energy on offense. Boston's engine scored 33 points and dished out nine assists, and Oubre finished minus-22, the worst mark of any Wizards player. Oh, Morris? He was a plus-7 in those brief 11 minutes.
Clearly Morris is not Washington's best or most important player, but he fills a lot of holes for Scott Brooks in this particular matchup. If Morris' injury is serious, Brooks must turn to a bench which has been the Wizards' weak spot all season. They were the second-worst bench unit in the league (27.0 points per game) ahead of only the Timberwolves (22.8 points per game), per NBA.com. Adding Bojan Bogdanovic via trade and Brandon Jennings off waivers lessened the burden on the starters, but against this Celtics team, Morris' absence places even more pressure on Wall, Beal and Porter to win all of their minutes on the floor. Boston got valuable bench contributions from Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Kelly Olynyk and even rookie Jaylen Brown, who finished plus-8 in six huge fourth-quarter minutes. Who will answer the call for the Wizards?
Of course, this is only Game 1. Adjustments will be made, and it's unlikely the Celtics will be able to sustain this kind of shooting on a team or individual level. (Jae Crowder alone was 6 of 8 from 3-point range after shooting 9 of 33 over six games against the Bulls.) However, a limited or sidelined Morris shrinks Washington's margin for error significantly. (UPDATE: Morris said he is available for Game 2: "Oh sure, oh yeah. It ain't broke. That's what I do know." He noted it was the worst ankle sprain he's ever had, per CSN's Chris Miller.)
This is by no means a death knell for the Wizards, but Brooks will need to get creative with his bag of tricks if he is without a core part of his dominant starting machine.