In the sullen visiting locker room late Friday night, the Boston Celtics changed back into the black clothes they had worn into Verizon Center. Though they denied the obvious purpose, the collective wardrobe had a clear intent: The Celtics wanted to host the funeral for the Washington Wizards' season, a nod to what the Wizards wore during a regular-season meeting between teams who share animus toward one another.
The threads represented only missed opportunity.
"We let this one slip away," Celtics forward Jae Crowder said. "We feel like we did everything to give ourselves a chance to win."
The Celtics led Game 6 by five points with less than 90 seconds remaining. They led by two with less than five seconds left. And yet, after John Wall's 3-pointer gave the Wizards a 92-91, season-saving victory, the Celtics and Wizards will meet one final time, on Monday night in Boston, for the right to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
In the 72 hours between Wall standing on the scorer's table and tip-off at TD Garden, the Wizards and Celtics will face disparate challenges. The Wizards must find a way to win on the road, which neither team has managed in the series or in any of their four regular season meetings. The Celtics must find a way not to let the bitterness of Game 6 trickle into Game 7. .
"It's a tough one to swallow," Crowder said. "But you got to bounce back. You can't dwell on it too long, or it can roll over into Game 7."
The Celtics entered Game 6 with bravado. They expected to end the series Friday night and prepare for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Afterward, for some odd reason, the Celtics performed a charade insisting the outfits had come together as pure coincidence.
"It was kind of something that just happened," guard Avery Bradley said. "Terry [Rozier] looked at me and said, 'He's got on black.' We looked around the locker room, and everybody had on black. We didn't plan it. It just happened."
Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics' point guard and scoring engine, said he had no second thoughts about the black attire, and insisted he would have no earthly reason to. "I wear black all the time," Thomas said. "I was the first one in the gym, too, so I didn't see nobody else wearing black."
Sure. Whatever the Celtics said, heading home will make it easier for the Celtics to shake their brutal finish in Game 6.
"We're excited," Thomas said. "It hurts right now, because we just lost. But we have nothing to hold our heads down about. We're going to take a few days to figure out our adjustments, and then win Game 7."
The Wizards can draw on two different experiences in Boston. They had a chance to win their first two games in Boston, opening Game 1 with 16 consecutive points and missing two last-second shots at the end of regulation in Game 2. Those near-misses provide confidence, but also the lesson Game 5 hammered home: They cannot afford lapses. The Celtics blew the Wizards out. The Wizards seemed bizarrely bewildered from the opening tip, never matched the Celtics' effort and were never in the game.
"We have to have the will to win," Washington forward Markieff Morris said. "Knowing that we're on the road, we have to play great. We have to be on call for everything. We can't let plays go by. Every possession is going to count."