WASHINGTON – Before this Boston-Washington series began, Celtics players talked about the need to be the aggressor, to play a more physical brand of basketball.
Two games into this series, both wins by Boston, that physicality they spoke of has indeed been the difference.
And if you didn’t know already, then you haven’t been listening at all to the Washington Wizards.
They come into tonight’s Game 3 matchup in desperate need of a victory to get back into this series, one in which they have played well but not well enough to win.
“Gotta win Game 3. That’s the most important game right now for us,” said Washington’s John Wall, who did not participate in the team’s shoot-around on Thursday morning due to a sore left wrist and right ankle that he said will not prevent him from suiting up tonight. “They have the series lead. They took care of home court. We have to be the more physical team in the last five minutes of the game. That last five-minute stretch, they’ve been the more physical team, getting offensive rebounds, attacking, getting to the free throw line. That’s something we didn’t do.”
While they collectively understand that increased physical play is part of the playoffs, they contend that the Celtics might go a bit too far and might be getting away with fouls that are not being called.
“That was my mindset in Game 2. You’re not going to get too many calls, so just play through it,” Wall said. “And try to finish plays, don’t look for the contact. Just try and play through it. One thing I can say is, they’re being more physical than our team. They’re not giving up easy lay-ups the way our team than we have. We have to bring a different approach.
He added, “It’s not trying to injure anybody. But play physical and smart basketball.”
Well here’s the thing.
In Game 1, Boston was called for 25 personal fouls compared to just 14 committed by the Wizards, which, not surprisingly, meant more trips to the free throw line for Washington (13-for-22) than the Celtics (12-for-15).
But in Game 2, the personal foul discrepancy was closer, with the Wizards being called for 29 while Boston committed 21. And again, the team that committed more fouls sent the other team to the line more often with Boston going 26-for-34 from the line compared the Washington connecting on 17 of 22 free throws.
The fall-out after Washington’s Game 2 loss was Wizards coach Scott Brooks complaining about Boston’s physicality, and the fact that they were being a bit too rough on shooting guard Bradley Beal.
Beal double-downed on his coaches comments on Thursday afternoon, but added that he expected that from the Celtics having played them so many times this season.
“I get held coming off every screen; off pick-and-rolls I get held,” Beal said. “I get fouled a lot, but it’s the playoffs. You can’t complain about it. You can’t be passive. [We] can’t allow that to change our aggression. We have to push back, fight back; do whatever it takes. Sometimes we’ll be called for it. We have to put it in the ref’s hands a little bit.”
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For the Wizards, part of that more aggressive game plan tonight will also involve being more physical, especially when it comes to defending Isaiah Thomas, who lit Washington up for a playoff career-high 53 points in Game 2.
“Deny him the ball a little bit, pressure him, get him to make somebody else make a play,” Beal said. “We know he’s a really good scorer; he’s capable of drawing a lot of fouls. We have to play smarter with him and get the ball out of his hands.”