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Brad Stevens' preference on turnovers vs. Wizards: 'Drop-kick it into the stands'

WASHINGTON -- In the immediate aftermath of Sunday's Game 4 loss, Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder was asked about the Washington Wizards' game-changing 26-0 third-quarter run.

"Twenty-six, zero?" Crowder repeated, unaware of just how lopsided Washington's run had been. "Man."

Crowder could be forgiven. Every time it seemed like the Wizards couldn't possibly push the run higher, it kept growing. Despite fumbling away a double-digit second-quarter lead, the Celtics had been up by five early in the third quarter, and then, in the blink of an eye, they were down by 21.

Crowder didn't need to watch the film to know what did Boston in.

"It's transition," Crowder said. "We preach about it. We keep them out of transition. We feel like we can guard them in the half court, but we tend to turn the ball over in spurts, and they capitalize well on it."

Consider that an understatement. The Wizards turned 20 Boston turnovers into 34 points Sunday. During the third quarter, Washington parlayed nine Boston turnovers into a staggering 21 points while shooting 9-of-10 from the field after those giveaways (including second-chance opportunities).

During that 26-0 run, the Celtics missed five shots and turned the ball over eight times, including a pair of shot-clock violations. When Boston gave it away in a live-ball situation, the Wizards routinely raced the other way for easy buckets. It got to the point where Celtics coach Brad Stevens wished his team would simply punt the ball 10 rows deep instead of giving up immediate points.

"One thing is, if you turn the ball over against these guys, you'd prefer to drop-kick it into the stands so that at least you could set your defense," Stevens said. "Their attack in transition killed us. In each of these [last] two games. ... Last game it was [a 22-0 run] in the first quarter. Today it was in the third quarter. They made us pay for it."

Stevens tried calling a timeout to staunch the run, but it didn't work. He called a second timeout at the end, but the Celtics' body language by that point confirmed the game was out of reach. The Wizards emerged with a 121-102 triumph that sends the series back to Boston tied 2-2.

"We turned the ball over, and then they got a few offensive rebounds where they got kickout 3s. Like, those kill you," Isaiah Thomas said. "And that's what happened in the third quarter. They, for the most part, got the ball and got out in transition. And when they get out in transition, they're a tough team to beat. And, for that first half, we held them in check when it came to getting out in transition and making them play in the half court."

The Celtics made responding to adversity their calling card this season, but Boston has struggled to find a way to stop the Wizards from scoring once they've gone on their runs the past two games.

How could Boston have stopped Sunday's run?

"By getting stops, I guess," Avery Bradley shrugged. "A lot of people are going to say maybe you should [have] done a timeout, maybe you should have did this, maybe you have should have did that. At the end of the day, Brad knows best, and I think he wanted to see us get some stops, look deep down in ourselves and take pride in getting stops on the defensive end, which we weren't able to do, [but] a lot of it had to do with us not taking care of the basketball."

Stevens admitted the Celtics simply didn't play well enough to overcome the two monster runs over the past two games.

"We played pretty good in stretches, but then two stretches killed us on this trip to D.C.," Stevens said. "One in the first quarter [Thursday], one in the third quarter [Sunday]. We have to play better throughout the whole game on Wednesday. And, I said it the other night, I just don't want to sit up here and talk about what we're not doing. You have to credit them. They're playing really well."

Wizards coach Scott Brooks dubbed the third-quarter run his team's "best stretch of basketball" this season. Washington players were adamant it was simply the byproduct of increased defensive intensity, the kind that left free throw-less Thomas frustrated with a lack of whistles after the game.

"It was all our defense. That's all it was," Beal said. "We realized at halftime that we weren't defending the way we were capable of. It was still a tied game, [and] we just came out in the third quarter with a better mindset, that everything was going to stem from the defensive end. We were able to force a lot of turnovers. On top of that we converted. We're one of the best teams in the league at converting off turnovers."

Not that the Celtics needed confirmation. Before the series, Stevens reminded his team the Wizards had the best transition offense in the league. Boston's transition numbers had spiked in the four head-to-head matchups during the regular season.

Celtics players believe that the series shifting back to Boston will help -- "We need to go back home," Crowder admitted -- but they also know that they can't give the ball away like they have regardless of location.

"We have to limit our turnovers," Bradley said. "They're scoring a lot in transition; that's a lot of their offense right there. Sometimes, just getting a shot is good offense for us, and we weren't able to get that on a consistent basis tonight."