The 7th place Boston Celtics host the 8th place Washington Wizards for the first game of the 2021 play-in tournament. The winner of this game will earn the 7th seed in the playoffs. The loser will get one more chance to make the playoffs. The winner of the 9/10 seed play-in game will play the loser of the 7/8 play-in game for the 8th playoff spot.
The Celtics are 2-1 vs the Wizards this season with each team winning at home. The Celtics won 116-107 on January 8 in Boston. They lost the February 14 game 91-104 in Washington with Tatum scoring just 6 points. On February 28 in Boston, the Celtics won 111-110 with Jayson Tatum scoring layups on the last 3 possessions. The Celtics played that game without Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.
The last playoff series between these two teams was in 2016-17. For the Wizards, only Bradley Beal and coach Scott Brooks remain of the team that played in that series. For the Celtics, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are still with the team, although Brown won’t be playing in this game. That series is often called the funeral series. The Wizards dressed in all black in a game in January and claimed it was for the Celtics funeral. The Wizards won that game. The Celtics dressed all in black for Game 6 in this series for the Wizards funeral but lost that game. The Celtics won that hard-fought series in 7 games.
The Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the league and come into this game with momentum on their side. They started the season 17-32 but finished 17-6 with 5 of those 6 losses being within one possession in the final seconds. The Celtics, on the other hand, have stumbled into the play-in tournament losing 10 of their last 15 games. The Wizards won their final game of the season while the Celtics lost their final game.
The Celtics will miss Jaylen Brown’s 24.7 points per game but the Celtics can win without him. Lineups with Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Evan Fournier and Jayson Tatum have outscored opponents by 14.4 points per 100 possessions. However, that lineup has only played together for 95 minutes. All players except Brown participated in practice on Monday. Robert Williams remained on the injury list as a game time decision for this game. If Timelord can’t play, Tristan Thompson should get the start. He has been battling a pectoral strain but is expected to play in this game.
The Wizards will be without Thomas Bryant, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. They are also without Deni Avdija who is out with an ankle injury. Bradley Beal missed the 2 games before Sunday’s final season game with a hamstring injury. He played in that game but was seen limping and wincing in pain at times. In spite of that, he scored 25 points. Raul Neto is considered a game time decision after missing the last 2 games but was listed as a starter in their game notes. If he can’t play, Davis Bertans should start in his place.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jaylen Brown (wrist) out
Robert Williams III probable
Probable Wizards Starters
Deni Avdija (ankle) out
Thomas Bryant (knee) out
Raul Neto (hamstring) probable
Marcus Smart vs Bradley Beal
Bradley Beal is averaging 31.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game this season. He is shooting 48.5% from the field and 31.5% from beyond the arc. He averaged 40.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 3 games against the Celtics this season. He is a threat to score every time down the court both in the paint and on the perimeter. Marcus Smart will need to concentrate all his energy on slowing down Beal in this game.
Kemba Walker vs Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is a threat to have a triple double in every game. He is averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 11.7 assists per game. He is shooting 43.9% from the field and 31.5% from beyond the arc. Westbrook averaged 16.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.7 assists in the 3 games against the Celtics this season. Kemba has been playing very well in recent games and the Celtics need him at his best in this game.
Jayson Tatum vs Rui Hachimura
Hachimura is averaging 13.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. He is shooting 47.8% from the field and 32.8% on 3 pointers. He averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists in the three games against the Celtics this season. Hachimura is a good defender and will make things hard for Tatum on the offensive end. Tatum needs to remember that getting to the hoop was a key to their February win and look to drive more, especially if the threes aren’t falling.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Wizards haven’t had a lot of trouble scoring as they are third in the league, averaging 116.6 points per game. The Celtics are averaging 112.6 points per game (16th). The Celtics have a defensive rating of 111.8 (13th) while the Wizards have a defensive rating of 112.3 (20th). The Celtics will not likely win a shoot out with the Wizards, especially without Brown. The Celtics have to especially defend the paint where the Wizards are 5th in points in the paint. They must get back to making defense a priority and give a better effort on that end of the court consistently throughout this game.
Rebound - The Celtics are averaging 44.3 rebounds per game while the Wizards are averaging 45.2 rebounds per game. If ever there was proof that much of rebounding is effort, it would be Payton Pritchard’s ability to beat much bigger players to the boards at times. All of the Celtics have to put out the extra effort to grab rebounds and match or exceed the Wizards efforts on the boards if they want to get a win in this game.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - The Wizards play hard from start to finish. The Celtics, on the other hand, often struggle to start and dig a hole that they have to spend the rest of the game digging out of. The Celtics have played 43 games that were within 5 points in the last 5 minutes and are 17-26 in those games, which is the 4th worse in the NBA. They are 19-10 in the other games. They must play hard right from the opening tip right up until the final buzzer.
Run and Move the Ball - The Wizards are first in the league playing with 104.7 pace. The Celtics are 20th with a 98.9 pace. The Celtics have to run and keep moving and they also have to move the ball and not lapse into hero ball and iso possessions. When they play fast and move the ball they are tough to beat, but too often they slow down and walk the ball up and stop making the extra pass. They have to keep moving and they have to trust each other and play team ball.
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. Too often this season they have allowed teams to play much harder than them. They can win a lot of games by putting in more effort than the other team.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics seem to lose focus and turn the ball over way too much. They lose leads and give the other team leads by turning the ball over several times in a row. The Celtics have got to take care of the ball and avoid careless passes and unforced turnovers. The Wizards are 8th in the league with 18.0 points off turnovers per game and if the Celtics get careless, the Wizards will make them pay.
Home Game - The Celtics are home and will have the fans behind them. These two teams won their home games in the series and hopefully that trend will continue in this game. The Celtics need to get motivation from their fans and they need to take care of their home court. The Wizards were 15-21 on the road this season and so hopefully the distractions of playing on the road will give the Celtics an advantage.
Officiating - The officiating can always be an X-Factor. Some crews call games tight and call every little thing so that the game has no flow. Some crews let teams play and allow a lot of contact. Some refs favor the home team and some favor the road team. The Celtics need to adjust their game to the way the refs are calling it and not let bad calls or no calls affect their focus. They need to focus on the game and playing the right way and not on complaining about every call. With Scott Foster leading the crew, that means anything can happen.