Wizards (0-0) at Boston Celtics (0-0)
Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 1
Playoff Game Game #7, Home Game #4
Sunday, April 30, 2017
1:00 PM ET
Radio: Sports Hub 98.5, WFED 1500 AM
Just 36 hours after closing out their series against the Bulls and the Hawks, the Celtics and Wizards face off in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. These two teams really don't like each other and their regular season meetings were marred with altercations and trash talking. One game even resulted in the police stationed between the two locker rooms to prevent any further incidents.
The series was tied 2-2 in the regular season with each team winning on their home court. In the regular season, both teams were 30-11 at home and the Wizards were 19-22 on the road while the Celtics were 23-18 on the road. Unlike the Celtics/Bulls series, in the Wizards/Hawks series, the home team won each of the first 5 games with the Wizards closing the series out on the road.
The Celtics were troubled by injuries in each of the first 3 regular season games against the Wizards. Kelly Olynyk, Al Horford and Jae Crowder all missed the November 9th loss in Washington. Avery Bradley, James Young, Tyler Zeller, Jaylen Brown, and Amir Johnson all missed the January 11 win in Boston. Avery Bradley, Demetrius Jackson and Gerald Green missed the January 24 loss in Washington. This was also the "funeral game" when all the Wizards came dressed in black for the "Celtics' funeral." Finally, the Celtics were healthy for the March 20 win in Boston.
The Celtics and Wizards last met in the playoffs way back in 1984 with the Celtics winning the first round matchup 3-1 on their way to Banner 15. Washington is 2-8 in their last 10 games in Boston and haven't won in Boston since the '14-'15 season. This should be an intense and entertaining series if the regular season was any indication.
Brad Stevens made an adjustment against the Bulls by inserting Gerald Green into the starting lineup to give them more offense and spread the floor. The move worked out well against the Bulls and Gerald is expected to begin this series in the starting lineup as well. Gerald played just 26 minutes in the 4 games vs the Wizards in the regular season.
The Celtics are healthy going into the second round, however, Isaiah Thomas flew out to Tacoma for his sister's funeral on Friday night after the game. He returned on Saturday night and according to Brad Stevens, he is ready to play. Hopefully he isn't suffering from jet lag and can focus on the game. He is shooting just 20% on 3 pointers in the playoffs so far and hopefully he can shake off that slump because the Celtics will need him this series. For the Wizards, Ian Mahinmi is listed out for this game with a calf injury.
Probable Starting Matchups
Isaiah Thomas vs John Wall
Avery Bradley vs Bradley Beal
Gerald Green vs Otto Porter
Jae Crowder vs Markieff Morris
Al Horford vs Marcin Gortat
Kelly Oubre Jr
Ian Mahinmi (calf) out
Isaiah Thomas vs John Wall
Wall is very quick and a tough cover for anyone. He averaged 27.0 points, 4.6 rebounds 10.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game in the first round. Isaiah may not be at his best in this game after flying to Tacoma for his sister's funeral and then turning around and flying back to Boston for the game. The Celtics need Isaiah's offense, but he is going to struggle to keep Wall from having a big game. With Wall, Beal and Portis all a threat to score, Isaiah will have to give a Herculean effort on defense.
Avery Bradley vs Bradley Beal
Bradley Beal averaged 24.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.2 steals per game in round 1. Avery will need to play tough defense on Beal who is always a threat to score. Beal shot 40.4% from beyond the arc in the regular season but only 26.4% on 3's vs Atlanta. He also took a career high 21.7 shots per game. Limiting Beal and Wall is key to getting a win in this one.
Gerald Green vs Otto Porter
Porter averaged 10.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game in the first round. He is a threat to have a big game if not defended well, however. In the first game between these two teams, which Jae missed, Porter scored a career high 34 points with 14 rebounds. If Brad sticks with Gerald in the starting lineup, he will need to cover Porter and keep him from having a big game. If Brad goes back to the lineup with Jae at small forward, he should be up for the task.
Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics need to make defense a priority. Defense wins games. They especially need to contain the Wizards' talented back court. The Celtics played very good defense against the Bulls and they need to bring that same defensive mindset to this series. The Wizards have won every game that they have shot 45% or better and so the Celtics have to defend them well and keep them from having a high scoring game.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics need to be the more aggressive team from start to finish. They need to be aggressive in going to the hoop, in crashing the boards, in fighting for loose balls and in running the court. They also have to be more aggressive on defense. They have to be the team that wants it more. They allowed the Bulls to be more aggressive in the first two games and lost. But starting in the 3rd game they played harder than the Bulls and it paid off in wins.
Rebound - In the first meeting between these two teams, a Celtics loss, the Celtics were out-rebounded 54-31 by the Wizards. In the 2nd meeting, a Celtics win, the Celtics out-rebounded the Wizards 45-44. In the third game, a loss, the Celtics were again out-rebounded 43-32. In their 4th meeting, a Celtics win, the Celtics out-rebounded the Wizards 54-39. It isn't a coincidence that the team that won each game had the rebounding edge. The Celtics have to put out the extra effort to grab rebounds if they want to get a win in this game.
Focus - The Celtics at times can shoot the lights out and other times can't hit the broad side of a barn. Much of that has to be their focus on taking good shots and taking their time with their shots and not rushing them. They need to take care of the ball and focus on making good passes and not give the Wizards extra possessions and fast break points by turning the ball over. In the first round, the Wizards led all teams with 20.7 fast break points. They also need to focus on playing the game the right way playing team ball.
Reserves Play - The Celtics have the stronger bench and so players like Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Jonas Jerebko must produce for the Celtics when they come into the game. Bojan Bogdanovic leads all advancing reserves with 9.7 points per game. The Celtics' reserves must play good defense as well as hit their shots and give the Celtics an advantage when the starters go to the bench.
Home Game - The Celtics are at home and have been playing well at the Garden this season. The Wizards haven't been the strongest road team this season and haven't played well in Boston in particular, losing 8 of their last 10 games at the Garden. The Celtics need to get energy from the fans, who should be loud and make the Garden a very hostile arena fo the Wizards.
Motivation - The Celtics should be motivated to beat this team that has developed into a rival for them. They should be motivated by the accusations from the Wizards that the Celtics play dirty. And, more than anything, the Celtics should be motivated to prove everyone wrong who called them the worst #1 seed in league history. They have plenty of motivation and they just need to use it to raise their game to the next level.
The Little Guy - The Celtics depend on Isaiah Thomas to lead the team. However, with Isaiah's trip out to Tacoma for his sister's funeral and the quick return for the game, he may be struggling with fatigue from the flights and the emotional drain of attending the funeral. His teammates are going to need to lift him up and give him support and come through for him if he isn't at 100%.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. How the refs call the game has a big influence on how the teams play. Will they let them play or call every little bit of contact? Will they call it evenly or will they favor one team or the other. Will they be influenced by the home crowd? It all effects the outcome of the game and most importantly, the Celtics need to adjust to the way the officials call the game. The officials in the first round were pretty good and hopefully that trend continues in this round.
Scott Foster as lead referee is worrisome. He was voted the worst ref in the league by players and coaches in a survey done by the LA Times. Foster's former close friend, Tim Donaghy, described Foster as a company man who will do what is asked of him to keep his seniority among refs. Foster was part of the 2010 Finals game 7 officiating crew that called the final quarter completely different than the first 3 quarters and very one sided for the Lakers with 21 free throws for the Lakers and 6 for the Celtics in the final 12 minutes.