BOSTON – The worst part about this burgeoning rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards?
It becomes increasingly more difficult to look at these two teams and not think of that damn ‘Bad Blood’ song by Taylor Swift.
But on the eve of Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup this afternoon, players for both teams are singing a very different tune when it comes to describing what has been nothing short of contentious, feisty, cantankerous duels every time these two have squared off recently.
“I think both teams play hard,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks whose words reminded many on hand of Rasheed Wallace’s famous line during his time with the Portland Trail Blazers. “I have no problem with playing hard. I think the NBA wants players to play hard and wants teams to play hard. The rivalry, I don’t know if it’s a rivalry. When’s the last time the teams played in the playoffs? I don’t even know the answer to that.”
You’re not alone, coach.
These two haven’t met in the postseason since 1984 when Boston won the first-round best-of-five series, 3-1.
And consider this.
The oldest player in this series, 33-year-old Marcin Gortat, was just a couple months old when that series took place.
Players for both teams speak as if the rivalry, bad blood talk is overblown.
“It’s basketball,” said Washington’s Bradley Beal. “We’re not fighting out here. I don’t think that’s either team’s intentions. We both play hard, we’re both competitive, we both want to win. That’s how it is. There’s no dirty play out here from us and none from them. We’re going to keep it clean and just play clean basketball.”
While Beal’s words have the best intentions, that’s just not how things have worked when these two have played one another this season.
In November, John Wall was ejected after a senseless flagrant-2 foul against Marcus Smart in the fourth quarter of a game the Wizards had well in hand and eventually won 118-93.
When the two met on Jan. 11, Isaiah Thomas scored 20 of his game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter in what was a physical, hard-fought game that ended with the Celtics rallying for the 117-108 win. But the real fireworks came after the game when Boston’s Jae Crowder and John Wall had some heated words for each other with Crowder eventually pointing his finger while making contact with Wall’s nose.
The league looked into the incident and decided to fine Crowder $25,000 and Wall $15,000 for their respective roles in the incident.
Their third meeting on Jan. 24 in Washington, dubbed “The Funeral game” because the Wizards’ entire team came to the arena wearing all black, was a game in which the Wizards wasted no time burying the Celtics 123-108 in a game that wasn’t that close.
The two met a fourth time on March 20, a game in which Thomas returned after missing the previous two with a knee injury. It was yet another testy, physical game with Boston emerging with a 110-102 win.
“With that team it's always going to be a physical game, always going to be trash talking and things like that,” Thomas said after the win. “We're basketball players. We love it. We love that type of environment, but we've got to be smart about the things we do.”
Nobody knows this better than Crowder who still laments the incident involving him and Wall that he knows will be seen repeatedly in the coming days.
“I haven’t seen that in a long time,” Crowder said. “I’m sure y’all be seeing that a lot the next 24 hours. Emotions took over. A lot was going on that game. It cost me a lot of money; I regret it. It was an emotional game; some bickering going back and forth the whole game. But I moved on from it.”
But that incident speaks to the competitive juices that are sure to flow from both teams throughout this series.
“We know it’s going to be real competitive from the get-go,” said Bradley Beal. “We’re all chasing the same thing at the end of the day. They’re going to play physical, they’re going to play hard, they’re going to play smart. That’s the type of team they are. They’re going to be competitive and we’re going to be the same.”
And while Boston’s Avery Bradley agrees that these two teams play some pretty heated, highly contested games, he’s not willing to call it a rivalry, either.
“I see them as another good team in the East,” Bradley said.
The way Crowder sees it, it’s hard not to develop some level of increased animosity towards one another when you play a team so many times.
“Those guys play very, very hard and we do as well,” Crowder said. “And we play each other so many times. You ask for bad blood when you play a team four times in one season. I think it was just two teams playing hard.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has steered clear of getting into whether this is a rivalry or bad blood between these two teams.
“If we don’t play well, we won’t win,” Stevens said. “Whatever distracts from playing well is not worth it.”