Celtics

Celtics-Wizards preview: C's understand significance of the 'big game'

Celtics-Wizards preview: C's understand significance of the 'big game'

BOSTON – This time of year, there’s always an increased amount of tension between teams jockeying for playoff tension.

But what’s going on between the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards … this is different.

With these two, there’s a clear and undeniable disdain for one another that we’ve seen become part of the narrative between these two before, during and after games.

Washington players dressing in all black for “the Funeral game” in which they buried the Celtics, 123-108 on Jan. 24.

That came 13 days after Jae Crowder and John Wall get into it after the game, an incident in which Crowder pointed his finger in Wall’s face, touched his nose and Wall responded by swinging back at Crowder.

Both players were fined for their roles in the incident.

And as much as pride and ego play a role in all this, the playoff stakes for both teams are extremely high in what may wind up being the most important game of the season for both franchises.

Boston (44-26) has a 1.5 game lead over Washington (42-27) for the second-best record in the East. If the Celtics win, they will split the season series at two games apiece but just as important, take a 2.5 game lead over the Wizards with what would be 11 games remaining.

For the Wizards, a victory would give them the head-to-head series three games to one, and put them just 0.5 game behind Boston for the No. 2 spot in the East.

Looking at the way the East is shaking down, these two are battling for home court advantage in the likely event that they meet in the second round of the playoffs.

Al Horford is well aware of the importance of tonight's game. 

But none of that stuff can be what the Celtics are focused tonight.

“It’s about us,” Horford told reporters following Sunday’s loss at Philadelphia. “I don’t think it has anything to do with standings or any of that stuff. It’s about us getting better. (Tonight) we have that opportunity.”

Avery Bradley also tried to downplay the significance of tonight’s game other than it being a chance to get back on track after losing 105-99 to the Sixers.

“It’s big. That’s a cool thing about the NBA,” Bradley told reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday. “We played (against Philly) and it was unfortunately a loss for us. But we’re playing a very good team (tonight). We can forget about this game. And worry about Washington. We know they’re going to come out and be ready to play. It’s our job to make sure we’re prepared mentally and physically.”

That’ll be a lot easier said than done.

The emotions are sure to run high when these two take to the floor tonight, which can be tricky balancing act.

Players always want to play with a high level of emotion, but there’s the potential for it to consume the Celtics and have a negative impact on their execution which will have to be at a high level due to the opponent who comes into tonight’s game with a great deal of confidence.

The way head coach Brad Stevens sees it, the Sixers loss is a reminder of what happens when they don’t play with the focus and attention to detail that they’ll need in order to win.

“If we don’t play well for long periods of time, we’re going to lose,” said Stevens who added that he felt the Sixers outplayed his team for three quarters of the game. “To give three quarters away, you’re probably going to get beat.”

Following the Philadelphia loss, Crowder talked about how he felt some of his teammates were looking ahead to the Wizards and not focusing as much as they should have on beating Philadelphia.

Well the Wizards game is here now, and Crowder isn’t one to mince his words when it comes to describing a game that could have a significant impact on the Celtics’ postseason starting point.

“It’s a big game, especially coming off this loss,” Crowder told reporters. “We have to bounce back. This is a bad loss for us. We have to bounce back. We look forward to bouncing back and getting a win.”

While that’s all good, this game has a little extra fight – Ok, let’s try a different word like "incentive" – because of the opponent, right?

“They’re a good team. They’ve been playing well. We’re right there, second and third seed in the East,” Crowder who added with a grin, “Both teams play hard; it is what it is.”

What “it is” is two teams that don’t like each other, and don’t do anything to hide that when they meet up.

Even though the Celtics haven’t talked much about it publicly, they have not forgotten the Jan. 24 meeting when the Wizards wore all-black and proclaimed that they were dressing for a funeral procession hours before putting the Celtics away in what was one of Washington’s best-played games this season.

Will the Wizards go with the funeral procession look again, only this time on the Celtics’ home floor (the Jan. 24 game was in D.C.)?

Crowder smiled before saying, “I don’t know what they’re gonna do.”

Celtics continue comeback narrative with win vs. Hawks

Celtics continue comeback narrative with win vs. Hawks

The Boston Celtics trail by double digits. The Celtics rally to make it relatively close by halftime. Boston continues to gain ground in the third, pull it out in the fourth.

Rinse. Recycle. Repeat.

That has been the Celtics’ mantra this season, with the latest chapter in their comeback narrative being a 110-99 win at Atlanta.

“We need to put an emphasis on playing with space and getting the ball to the other side of the floor,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It just stuck too much early on. We were staring at some post-ups that if we got it to the other side, maybe you could take advantage of.”

MORE:

Boston (15-2) fell behind by as many as 16 points against the Hawks (3-13), the second straight game the Celtics have rallied from a double-digit deficit.

In Boston’s 92-88 win over Golden State on Thursday, the Celtics fell behind by as many as 17 before rallying for their most impressive win of the season.

That said, it still shouldn’t take away from what happened on Saturday against an Atlanta team that despite their record, has shown signs of playing better in their recent games.

Players are aware of the penchant they’ve shown thus far for falling behind only to mount a furious comeback for the win.

“We don’t try to (go down early),” said Kyrie Irving following Saturday’s win which extended their winning streak to 15 straight which is the fifth-longest streak in franchise history. “Some teams, they go on runs and whether that be us giving up some easy ones or giving up some turnovers or doing things we can correct. When we do correct them, it turns into a different game.”

And that is what makes this stretch of play so impressive.

The Celtics have not played a full game; instead they have had stretches of good play that have often masked their mistakes early in the game.

That’s why head coach Brad Stevens, obviously pleased with the team’s success, knows as well as anyone that his team has to become more consistent in their play if they are to get the most out of these wins and continue to build off of them and achieve their ultimate goal – getting back to the NBA Finals.

“We’re going to keep playing,” Stevens said. “But the biggest thing is, we can’t keep digging these holes.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Stars, studs and duds: No lack of confidence for Brown

Stars, studs and duds: No lack of confidence for Brown

When it comes to the top backcourts in the NBA, you seldom hear about Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown.

That may soon be changing if they have more games like the one they delivered on Saturday as Boston put together a solid second half to pull away from the Atlanta Hawks, 110-99.

Irving had a game-high 30 points which was his second game with at least 30 points scored – both against Atlanta.

MORE:

And Brown, who had a strong 22-point performance in Boston’s win over Golden State on Thursday, was even better against the Hawks in tallying a career-high 27 points.

We all know about Irving who has established himself as one of the NBA’s top guards.

But is Brown on the way?

One thing Brown won’t have to develop going forward is, confidence.

He has long maintained that he believes he’ll be among the best in the league. It’s just a matter of him performing at a high level at both ends of the floor, consistently.

“I’ve always had that confidence, I can play with the best in the world,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin following the win over Atlanta which extended Boston’s winning streak to 15 in a row. “It’s just a matter of coming out, doing it. My teammates found me tonight. We had a good team win tonight.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 110-99 win at Atlanta which extended the Celtics’ winning streak to 15 in a row which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

 

STARS

Jaylen Brown

Back in his home state of Georgia, Jaylen Brown delivered another monster game for the Celtics by scoring a career-high 27 points on 10-for-13 shooting with four 3-pointers.

Kyrie Irving

Irving had his most efficient game this season for the Celtics, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting to go with four rebounds and five assists.

Dennis Schroder

Atlanta’s best scorer delivering a strong 23-point, 9-assist performance for the Hawks.

 

STUDS

Jayson Tatum

He only had 14 points, but they all came in the third quarter and they included a few crowd-quieting dunks.

John Collins

He came into the league with the reputation of being a high motor player, and he has not disappointed. His hustle and energy led to him tallying 18 points and seven rebounds.

Marcus Morris

When the offense struggled mightily in the first half, it was Morris’ scoring that kept them within striking distance. He finished with 14 points, 10 of which came in the second quarter.

Kent Bazemore

He was Atlanta’s number two scoring option most of the night, and finished with 19 points.

 

DUDS

Boston’s first quarter defense

The Celtics can’t keep digging themselves these early holes, expecting they will turn it on and find a way to climb out of them. The Hawks led 35-20, fueled in large part by shooting 64.7 percent (11-for-17) in addition to out-rebounding Boston 8-6.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE