Celtics-Wizards preview: No Game 7, but a big game nonetheless


BOSTON – The last time Boston faced Washington, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals was on the line with Game 7 at the TD Garden. 

It was one of the few playoff series last season that gave even the most casual basketball fan exactly what they wanted. 

There were hard plays made, hard fouls delivered, and hard feelings developed in a playoffs that went the distance.

And tonight, we get a Christmas treat with the latest installment between two of the top teams in the East.

However, the back-and-forth now doesn’t have nearly as much vitriol to it as last season.

In fact, you have some Celtics players who despite the tough playoff series which came after four regular season games in which the home team emerged victorious in each instance.

“I never really thought of it as a rivalry,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “It’s a lot of new faces.”

Boston only returns four players from last season’s team, although most of the players on this season’s roster are familiar and well-versed on how rough-and-tumble things got between these two teams last season. 

Rookie Jayson Tatum said he spent a lot of time watching playoff basketball last season, and was able to watch the Boston-Washington series. 

“It was tough,” Tatum told NBC Sports Boston, referring to the series. “Went seven games. Both teams battled it out. Great individual performances; it was exciting.”

And extremely intense, from Jae Crowder’s finger in the face of John Wall that led to fines for both players, to “the Funeral Game” in which the Wizards buried the Celtics 123-108 (the final score was much closer than the actual game played).

In the postseason, you had the Funeral Game 2.0 in Game 6 of the playoffs when the Celtics – not the Wizards – showed up wearing all-black only for the Wizard’s John Wall drained a last-second buzzer beater that forced a Game 7 in Boston. 

And we’re not even talking about the KOs – Kelly Olynyk for Boston and Kelly Oubre Jr. for Washington – getting into a pushing incident or the back-and-forth jawing between Terry Rozier of the Celtics and Brandon Jennings of the Wizards getting into to where both players were ejected. 

Such feisty play up and down the roster, spoke to how much these two seemingly disliked each other. 

But hate?

That’s a strong word, one that Smart – one of four players back from last season for Boston – would not use in describing the Celtics’ feelings towards the Wizards. 

“We never hated anybody,” Smart said. “I don’t think nobody hates anybody. As a competitor, you just want to go out there and do everything you can to win. This game is eighty percent mental. If you can get under your opponent’s skin early, that’s half the battle. We don’t hate anybody. We get it; we’re competitors too.” 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has had a front-row seat for it all, and chuckles initially when asked about the rivalry and the intensity we all saw when these two met in the playoffs last season. 

“I don’t get into all that stuff; I just know that that’s a heck of a team,” Stevens said. “They play hard. They exposed us in so many ways; that series could’ve gone either way. We probably won the series because we won home court.”

And while it may not have the same level of animosity as last season with key players like Crowder (Cleveland) and Olynyk (Miami) gone, that shouldn’t take away from what should be an extremely intense battle.

“They’re going to come out ready and we’ve gotta be able to come out and beat that team,” Smart said.


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