Predict Game 1. Who wins and why?
Jeff Clark: This series is not going to be easy. The Bulls were rightly the 8th seed while the Wizards at time played like a 1 or 2 seed. They'll be prepared and they'll match up well with the Celtics and it will come down to who executes better. I feel like the Celtics take game 1 based on home court advantage. That sounds odd coming off this past series, but I think it will matter in the next round.
Bill Sy: It’s a tough series to predict. The teams split their regular season games with the home team winning every time. The Celtics were blown out in D.C. twice but both games were marred by injury. Jae Crowder and Al Horford missed one early in the season and a January loss was without Avery Bradley. Boston’s win just over a month ago might be the best gauge of how competitive this series will be; if the Celtics can contain Beal and Wall with the same zeal that they went after Butler and Wade, they should be able to handle the Wizards. I’ll predict a strong perfomance in Game 1 and the Celtics take the opener.
Jared Weiss: If there’s one thing to be confident in, it’s that this series is going long and blood will be shed. These teams not only match up beautifully, but they have real animosity toward each other. The Celtics got their first series win under Brad Stevens Friday night and made sure everyone knew. Avery Bradley is an extremely humble player and he was handing out “I told you so’s” like flyers from a Greenpeace volunteer in Harvard Square. The Celtics are coming into this one pissed off and full of momentum. But so are the Wizards. Isaiah Thomas will have to guard John Wall frequently this series and that’s going to be taxing. As creative as Stevens was in stopping Jimmy Butler, Wall is neither dealing with a knee injury nor on his own to threaten the defense. Bradley Beal has torched the Celtics in the past and will bring the most out of Avery Bradley. The bottom line is that the Wizards can be more potent, but the Celtics run a better system and have a coaching edge. The Wizards have two of the most dominant scorers in the series and IT’s performance has been erratic so far. If Thomas can lock in and play his best, this is the Celtics’ series to win. Game 1 will be an extreme challenge for him, as he will be flying in just before game time. The Celtics dug themselves out of a hole against Chicago because they had a superior team and injuries crushed Chicago. But the talent gap is no longer a factor and Washington would have to lose one of Wall or Beal for this series to turn on its head. With the optimism that Thomas can elevate his game to his MVP level, the Celtics will win this series in seven. Thomas will have another adrenaline driven Game 1, with the Celtics taking Game 1 and dropping the second. Buckle up.
Alex Kungu: Celtics. I think the opposite of last rounds game 1 happens because the team will know how to rally around Thomas, and they will actually know how to win in the playoffs. Also, I think the Wizards guards have gone up against a lot of bad perimeter defenders in the last series, will be a bit of an adjustment for them that they may not be able to handle with such a quick turnaround.
Keith Smith: Celtics. They'll have the home crowd and they know they can't afford to start the series slowly like they did against the Bulls. The Wizards will make them pay.
Does Brad Stevens go with his old starting lineup with Amir Johnson in for Gerald Green against the Wizards?
Jeff Clark: I think Amir might start game 1 but I'm not convinced he'll play game 4. I think everything is on the table, including Jaylen Brown getting more minutes. Unlike the Bulls, the Wizards have guards that can keep up with our perimeter players. So it will mean different matchups.
Bill Sy: Brad Stevens has caught lightening in a bottle with Green in the starting lineup and my guess is that he sticks with it. One of the reasons that he could do that against the Bulls was because Fred Hoiberg went with Nikola Mirotić at the 4. That’s a good match up for Jae Crowder. That should allow Stevens to go with Green vs. Otto Porter.
Jared Weiss: This is a really tricky call. Marcin Gortat rebounded well going up against Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap in the first round, averaging 10.7 boards per game (just above his season average of 10.4). But he was a scoring non-factor, shooting 1-for-4 in three of the past four games and just 1-for-6 in game 5. So this could be a feasible matchup for Amir, with Horford matching up well on Morris. But the Gerald Green change was more about opening up the offense than matching up on defense. So in the end, the Celtics staying small is the best option. This is a series where starting the IT&D lineup matches up well, allowing Marcus Smart to guard Wall, the Bradleys to cover each other and have IT cover the weak side shooter. But Stevens has always stayed away from this so that Smart can run the second unit. Amir started against the Wizards in the previous games when available and it would make sense for that to continue. But Gerald Green is playing his best basketball all year and Stevens might as well continue riding this wave until it crashes to shore. This is why Bill is right and Green will start on Porter while Crowder will start on Morris.
Alex Kungu: I think the Celtics are going to have to play to what makes them the best and right now that’s is playing small. I like the spacing and shooting the Gerald Green brings and because Otto Porter isn’t someone that you necessarily worry about exploring defensive mismatches, I think you can get away with keeping Green sticking on him. However, if I had to pick another surprise, it would be Jaylen Brown getting a shot at the starting lineup. Though the rookie fell out of favor in round 1, I think against the Wizards he has the potential to provide another strong solid defender on the perimeter. This would be huge because a big part of the Wizards offense also relies on heavy PnR work, however, this would force WSH to put Wall in PnR’s where he’d be inviting a more versatile player to defend him. Of course, Brown would have to prove that he can actually get back to the smooth moving rookie he once was during the regular season, but hey, playoff series are different from matchup to matchup so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
Keith Smith: Yes, but he'll have a quick trigger. Washington almost always plays two traditional bigs. Markieff Morris is much more of a matchup issue for Green than Nikola Mirotic was. But if it isn't working, Stevens will go right back to what worked against Chicago.
John Wall/Bradley Beal vs. Avery Bradley could be the marquee matchup of the series. What other matchup do the Celtics need to win to advance?
Jeff Clark: Crowder vs. Porter will be interesting to watch. Jae has struggled a lot thus far, so it will be interesting to see how he matches up with Otto.
Bill Sy: The guards and wings could be a net zero by the end of the series, but Al Horford needs to take advantage of Washington’s front line. If Amir does draw the start, Horford should be able to work the low block against the smaller Markieff Morris. Big Al has been effective so far in the post-season as both a scorer and a playmaker and I expect him to do more with his back to the basket as he takes advantage of his size.
Jared Weiss: Following Jeff’s lead here with Jae Crowder vs. Otto Porter, as both players play the same role for their team. Wins can usually be traced back to their weak-side shooting and their defensive intensity. They both operate in similar ways for their team and while Crowder can provide more positionally flexibility on defense, Porter is capable of hitting 4 threes in a game at any moment. The Wizards will win one game in this series because Porter goes 4-for-6 from deep, but Crowder is due for one of those nights too. As Brad Stevens said before Game 6 of the Bulls series regarding the Celtics’ shooting, the water will seek its level.
Alex Kungu: The bench has to win every matchup. Wizards are not deep and Brooks insists on sitting Wall and Beal together despite the stakes. Celtics seem to have found something with the Smart-Rozier-Olynyk tandem and I think they have enough to thoroughly outplay this thin Wizards team.
Keith Smith: Marcus Smart has to provide big time defense. He'll defend anyone from Wall to Morris and he has to step up to the challenge.
Who will be Boston’s x-factor?
Jeff Clark: Kelly Olynyk was quietly effective in the 1st round and I think he'll provide some good matchup problems for the Wizards in round 2. His matchup with Markieff Morris is going to be another one to keep an eye on.
Bill Sy: When it comes to x-factors, I’ll always say Kelly Olynyk, but because Jeff already picked him, I’ll go with somebody we haven’t seen a lot of yet: Jonas Jerebko. Post face mask, JJ’s been terribly inconsistent, but his defensive versatility is going to be very important going up against Washington’s offensive bench with Bojan Bogdanovich and Brandon Jennings. I’ll throw Jaylen Brown into that mix, too. He’s itching to contribute and selfishly, I want to see him go up against Kelly Oubre, short shorts vs. short shorts!
Jared Weiss: Just to break the mold of Celtics swings, Marcus Smart is the man. He had some impactful moments against the Bulls, but overall didn’t assert himself as an x-factor. He is going to see plenty of John Wall and plenty of floor. Isaiah will see Wall in non-crunch time moments, but Smart will guard him down the stretch. Wall is playing at his peak right now and this will be the biggest challenge of Smart’s career. Look for Smart to dominate at least one game down the stretch by swallowing up Wall and forcing the ball to Beal. This is the moment where Marcus Smart truly establishes his place in the NBA landscape.
Alex Kungu: 1a. Isaiah Thomas: If last series was any indication of anything, Wall does not seem particularly interested in playing defense and the pressure Thomas once got probably won’t be there to the same degree unless they decide to try and hide Wall on a guy like Gerald Green. Thomas getting his shot back and continuing to penetrate and create open looks for the team will be crucial in winning the minutes against their staters. The way the Wizards are set up, if you can outplay there starting 5, you’re probably going to win the game. Isaiah Thomas will be a catalyst for making that happen.
1b. Marcus Smart: Smart has the propensity to take these Wizard matchups to seriously and it ends up affecting his performance. The Celtics are going to need him at his best not just against the Wizards second unit where he should absolutely be able to bully Brandon Jennings into submission, but also whether it’s fighting through screens to stay on Beal or banging in the post with Morris. Celtics need to hard-nosed Smart, but also one who doesn’t let his emotions take him out of the game. The restraint was there against Chicago, but this will be a whole different test.
Keith Smith: Jae Crowder. He was very up and down against Chicago. He needs to outplay Otto Porter and give Boston an extra scorer. Washington will focus on making someone other than Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford hurt them. Crowder needs to be ready when the ball comes his way.
A special shout out to Jonas Jerebko. Something tells me that when things get chippy, and they will, Jerebko will be right in the middle of it.