This is a war.
With the bad blood—some spilled, some boiling—there’s no better word to describe this second round series with Washington. This is a war. After splitting four games in the regular season and now four games in the playoffs, the Celtics and Wizards are engaged in a war of words, a war of attrition, a war of nerves, and potentially two of the next three games in the Garden, a turf war.
A three-day armistice before Wednesday’s pivotal Game 5 will give the Celtics plenty of time to regroup and it’s a break they desperately need. Avery Bradley joins the list of the walking wounded with another hip pointer. Every strategy and every tweak to the starting lineup has not been able to stem the tide of an advancing John Wall. Boston’s aerial attack in Game 1 with 19 three pointers and Isaiah Thomas going nuclear with 53 points in Game 2 notwithstanding, Washington has dominated, winning games in the trenches: defense, rebounds, and toughness.
And yet, we’re at a stalemate. No one has been able to win on the other team’s home court and the series is tied 2-2 heading back to Boston on Wednesday night. After two stirring comeback wins to start the second round, the Celtics have surrendered momentum to the Wizards, but none of that matters if Boston can protect their home floor. Boston has been engaged with Washington for the last week, but this has been just another campaign in a bigger conflict that started in October.
Over the course of six months, the Celtics crisscrossed the country and proved they were the best team in the Eastern Conference over an 82-game stretch. Home court advantage is earned and although the Celtics come home after a brutal 121-102 loss, the blood, sweat, and tears that earned them the privilege to play Game 5 on the parquet will give the franchise and the city another chance to embody Boston Strong.
There are some stats and analytics that are in the Celtics’ favor that could point to a Game 5 win. Game 4 was marred by turnovers; those can be cleaned up. Boston was 30-11 in the Garden, including a 17-2 to close out the regular season. In the playoffs, their hustle stats are up in the 02114 zip code: they grab more offensive rebounds, score more second chance points, score more points in transition, and score more points in the paint.
After taking zero free throws on Sunday night, Thomas lobbied the refs hard in his post-game presser for more calls. “It’s got to be called differently,” Thomas said, "they were very physical. The refs were allowing them to hold and grab and do all of those things." The Wizards have blitzed IT and to their credit, that’s dulled Thomas’ ability to lead the charge for the C’s. Back in Boston, that should change with a home whistle on his side and a capacity crowd of 18,624 cheering him on.
The thought has crept into my mind that maybe the Wizards are just the better team. It’s a sum of all fears. They’ve been together longer, they have more experience, and this is a culmination of their rebuilding efforts that started when they drafted wall seven years ago. Under perfect circumstances on a neutral court, Washington might beat Boston 51 out of a 100 times. But wars aren’t fought in a vacuum. They’re fought in their house and in ours.
This is a call to arms, not for just Isaiah Thomas or his teammates. Frankly, they don’t need it. We know how resilient these Boston Celtics are and have been all year. They’ve battled injury and doubt. They’ve weathered trade rumors and learning curves. They’ve overcome bad losses with big wins against the NBA’s best. No, this is a call to arms for us.
If you’re at the Garden for Game 5, join the fight. Boston and its sports fans have recently been stereotyped and demonized by the actions of a few at Fenway, but they don’t represent the spirit of the city and its sports teams. It’s time to rally the troops. In all my time as a Celtics fan, there are few moments that I will cherish more than the “Let’s go, Celtics!” chant at the end of Game 6 in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. They lost that game by 19 points, but that crowd cheered like they were raising another banner that night and you can still hear it echo every time something amazing happens in that building. This is a hard working team deserving of that kind of home court support. Let’s give them that advantage Wednesday night.