Blakely: Victory over Wizards is much more than 'just another win' for Celtics

Blakely: Victory over Wizards is much more than 'just another win' for Celtics

BOSTON – Like most fans, I'm not buying this "just another win" talk that players like to say after we know and they know, that's so not what just happened out there.

Boston’s 110-102 win over Washington on Monday was more than just the Celtics beating a quality opponent (that they can't stand).

It was the clearest signal that we have that maybe, just maybe, this Boston Celtics team is built to do more than just show up in the playoffs and win a few games.


They were coming off a bad loss at Philadelphia, and playing the second night of a back-to-back.

Isaiah Thomas, the second-best scorer in the NBA, was back after missing two games (knee) but you knew he would be rusty.

Washington, which arrived in town on Sunday, had won two of the three previous games against Boston albeit both were in D.C. with Boston’s lone win prior to Monday coming on the parquet back in January.

And yet for so much of the game, Boston looked like the fresher team, the hungrier team, the one in the mold of the hunter rather than the hunted which isn’t how it was supposed to be considering Boston (45-26) came in with the second-best record in the East while the Wizards (42-28) were right on their heels.

The game became a battle of wills to start, and soon morphed into a Wizards team wilting under the pressure of the moment.

The significance of this game was palatable, each locker room blanketed with the kind of silence that speaks volumes to focus each team had for this all-important last regular season meeting.

And with that kind of pressure on both sides of two teams that we pray will meet in the second round of what would be an epic playoff series, someone had to crumble on Monday right?

Of course the Wizards have time to bounce back and potentially overtake the Celtics for the No. 2 spot in the East, but that seems highly unlikely.

With Washington having 12 games left, nine will be against teams either currently in the playoff picture or just on the outside looking in.

And of those nine games, six will be on the road (at Cleveland; at Los Angeles Clippers; at Utah; at Golden State; at Detroit and at Miami).

Meanwhile, Boston has what many believe is the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA.

Of the Celtics’ 11 remaining games, seven are against teams that have one of the top eight records in the East, or they are just on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

Of those seven teams, five (Indiana; Miami; Milwaukee; Cleveland and Milwaukee a second time) will play at the TD Garden down this homestretch.

And home has been good to Boston lately with four straight wins at the TD Garden, and victories in 11 of their last 12 home games dating back to Jan. 25.

So with the momentum of playing well, a favorable schedule primarily at home and now the extra confidence that comes with beating a good team like Washington, the Celtics have every reason to feel that they are closing in on being at or near the top of their game come playoff time. 

"We're getting there, but we have to get better," Isaiah Thomas told CSNNE.com following the win. "We know that."

 For Boston to have the kind of season they’re more than capable of having which is to get to the Eastern Conference finals, chances are high that they’ll have to go through Washington to do so.

Monday’s win moved the Celtics just that much closer to securing the No. 2 seed in the East, which means if these two met in the postseason Boston would have home court advantage.

And as we’ve seen in their four game regular season series, that’s a huge factor when you consider the home team has won every game.

Jae Crowder is part of stay-in-the-moment crew on this Celtics roster.

But he knows as well as anyone that if things play out the way they look like they will, there’s a very good chance that these two will meet up in the second round of the playoffs.

“It would be a great one,” Crowder said of a potential playoff series with Washington. “Both teams … you could say we don’t like each other a little bit; good old fashioned battle.”

Which is something we don’t see much of in this buddy-ball era of the NBA where players are more likely to fist-bump each other during the game, as they are to deliver a physical, hard – but clean – foul.

“It never got dirty,” Crowder said of Monday's game. “It never got anything less than basketball. They trash talked every now and then, but it was a clean game for the most part.”

And if the basketball gods do the right thing, we’ll see these two square off again in the postseason.

“If I’m a fan,” Crowder said, “I’d want to watch a game like this.”

Irving, Brown out again for Celtics tonight vs. Thunder

Irving, Brown out again for Celtics tonight vs. Thunder

BOSTON – The injury report remains the same for the Celtics who will enter tonight’s game against Oklahoma City with a roster that remains shorthanded.

In addition to Gordon Hayward (left ankle) who has been out all season, joining him on the inactive list tonight are Jaylen Brown (NBA concussion protocol); Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness); Marcus Smart (right thumb sprain) and Daniel Theis (out for season after left knee meniscal tear surgery).

Only Irving and Brown are expected to return in the near future. Theis has his season-ending surgery last week, the Celtics continue to insist Hayward won't play this season and Smart has a shot at returning at some point in the playoffs as early as the latter stages of the first round or early in the second.


Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

BOSTON – With the NBA playoffs looming, this is a tricky time of year for most of the league’s playoff-bound teams. 

Both players and coaches want to head into the postseason well-rested. 

But they also want to be in a good playing rhythm.

MORE - OKC not taking shorthanded C's for granted

Injuries have forced the Boston Celtics to sit some players who are likely to be able to play (and well-rested) when the playoffs. 

And tonight’s foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are in a similar situation as well. 

“It's something you're walking a tightrope on all the time, where a guy is really rested but you've taken him out of rhythm,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “The biggest thing is, there's gotta be communication between the players and the medical staff, coaches, of where guys are, what they need.

Donovan added, “I think rest this time of year would help any player, but there's a balance between maybe getting too much rest and maybe getting out of rhythm. The players are always walking that line during the course of the year, because you kind of get into a rhythm of playing every other day, you get into that, and then there's a back to back here or there, and you get three games in four nights, but yeah. You try to best as you can with your players, help them balance that the best they can.”

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook can see how some players might need to strike a balance between getting enough rest late in the season while maintaining a good playing rhythm.  

So, I asked him which is his preference?

“I prefer to play,” he said. “Rhythm and all that (expletive), it’s in your mind.”

For Westbrook, maybe so. 

But it is very real to a number of players in the NBA, among them being his teammate and fellow All-Star Paul George. 

“If you know why you’re in the gym and the work you’re getting, you lock in,” George said. “You prepare, get your work done. And you get off your legs, get off our feet and get your rest. It’s easy to balance the two when you know what exactly you’re doing and you know exactly what you need to do.”

Boston has worked to strike that balance with Kyrie Irving all season.

That’s why the five-time All-Star is averaging 24.4 points per game which is 11th in the league. However, he’s doing it in 32.2 minutes which ranks 55th in the league in minutes played per game. 

Lately, Irving has gotten more time off than he would like as he deals with a sore left knee that has kept him sidelined for the Celtics’ last three games. 

It doesn’t appear to be something that will limit him now.

However, having him sit out games now increases the likelihood that he’ll be ready to roll at or near full strength, when the playoffs arrive. 

Boston is also playing without Jaylen Brown who suffered a concussion when he fell on his back following a dunk at Houston on March 3. He is expected to return at some point between now and the end of the regular season which could be a blessing in disguise for the 6-foot-7 Brown who will be called upon to not only remain Boston’s next-best scoring option to Kyrie Irving, but also defend at a high level. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged that they have given thought to how to find that happy medium between resting guys while ensuring as best they can, that players will be refreshed for the playoffs. 

“We haven’t been in that situation very often, where we choose to do rest except for that stretch in December when we rested Al (Horford),” Stevens said. “But everything else has kind of happened organically with guys being dinged up or whatever the case may be. I think that’s … we’ll probably be in a situation where we will continue to have those discussions.”