BOSTON – Regardless of the outcome in Friday’s series-clinching win over Chicago, Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens knew his team would be playing someone on Sunday.
Well the quick turnaround came sooner than anticipated with Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup against Washington having a 1 p.m. start time.
“It is what it is,” said Wizards guard Bradley Beal. “It’s tough because it’s the playoffs. You play hard every night. Your body gets sore. You’re a little tired, but your opposing team, they’re going through the same thing. So it’s no excuse. It’s a matter of who wants it the most.”
While that’s certainly a factor, one must also remember that with the short turnaround comes a much more limited amount of time to lock and prepare for the opponent.
During the playoff series with Chicago, some of the Celtics’ staffers were working on a game plan in case the Celtics did play the Wizards in the second round of the playoffs.
“They’ve done a great job of bringing the rest of us up to speed ASAP,” Stevens said. “When you play 82 games and they’re all back-to-back or one day apart, you get used to preparing for the next one quickly.”
Knowing how quickly a series’ momentum can shift, Stevens also spent time watching Washington’s first-round opponent, Atlanta.
“You kind of, any of your down time as you’re in this, you think about what possibly could happen so you’re as prepared as you can be,” Stevens said. “We know they’re (Washington) a handful.”
Because of the short turnaround, Stevens didn’t see value in potentially overloading his players with too much information.
“You’re just doing what are the most important things,” Stevens said. ”We started the last series with four keys to the series. We start this one in the same vein with what’s the most important things; try to keep the main thing the main thing and tweak as we must to do well in those areas.
Stevens added, “Obviously rebounding was number one against the Bulls. We didn’t do it so hot but we got better as the series went on. And some of the coverages and those type of things helped us do that. So, (Game 1) is about playing with a clear mind and going out and playing hard with two or three things to think about and not 15.”
Washington head coach Scott Brooks has similar challenges with his team which advanced to this round about an hour before Boston did on Friday.
None of the players or coaches are ecstatic about the quick turnaround, but they both take solice in the fact that they each have similar challenges from a quick turnaround standpoint, as their opponent.
“You can’t have that (quick turnaround) as your excuse,” Brooks said. “They had the same situation that we have going into (Sunday) afternoon’s game. Like I said, we know each other. There’s not going to be a lot of surprises in the set calls, how they play defense. Same thing on our end. We have to be prepared and play well. It takes a good performance to win on their court. We felt we had one good game here, and didn’t get the win and the other game they beat us pretty handily. And we played well on our home floor. Two competitive teams. They have the best record in the (East) for a reason. They have a lot of good players.”
Still, players admittedly were somewhat surprised to have their series start so quickly while the two other teams in the East that advanced past the first round, Cleveland and Toronto, don’t start their series against one another until Monday.
Wizards star John Wall recalled how things came together for Washington in the hours after moving on to the conference semifinals by winning in Atlanta on Friday.
“Pretty crazy,” Wall said. “We got home at like 2, 2:30, woke up at like 11; went to the plane and now we’re here. The NBA made the schedules. We can’t do anything about that but compete and play. And make no excuses, it’s the playoffs now.”
I asked Wall whether he scratches his head when he sees how quickly he and his teammates had to scramble to get to Boston for a playoff game just 13 hours after beating the Hawks, while Cleveland and Toronto closed out their series earlier and are basically resting up until they return to the floor for their Game 1 matchup on Monday.
“No comment,” said Wall, smiling.
While Avery Bradley wasn’t overly thrilled about the team having to return to the court so quickly, there are worst – a lot worst – things that could be going on right now with the Celtics.
“It’s strange but it’s fun,” Bradley said. “Coach (Stevens) was prepared. I feel like all the guys were prepared; no one was complaining. It’s better to be here preparing than instead of having exit meeting, you know what I mean?. That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re excited about the matchup tomorrow.”