BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics and Wizards didn’t have much time to prepare for their second-round playoff series, which tips off Sunday afternoon at 1pm in Boston.
Both are fresh off their first-round series-clinching victories on Friday night, with Boston eliminating the Chicago Bulls and Wizards doing the same to the Atlanta Hawks, making for a quick turnaround.
But the Celtics don’t mind. It just gives them less to think about as they enter the second round for the first time under head coach Brad Stevens. The group gathered in Waltham on Saturday for a film session and an offensive and defensive walkthrough, and they’ll meet again on Sunday morning.
“You focus on the most important things. We try to keep the main thing the main thing, and tweak as we must to do well in those areas,” Stevens told reporters on Saturday. “[Sunday] is about playing with a clear mind and going out and playing hard with two or three things to think about, not 15.”
“You just go play ball, have fun and not really think about it,” guard Marcus Smart said of the quick turnaround from their first-round victory over the Bulls. “When guys get to go out and just play freely, not really think, that’s when some play their best basketball. Both teams have the day, and it’s the first team to come out and punch the other in the mouth.”
That’s an interesting phrase from Smart, given the Celtics and Wizards didn’t really like each other very much during the regular season. They’re plenty familiar with the other after splitting their regular season series 2-2, which has created a bit of a rivalry between the two.
No matter how things get on the floor, the Celtics know it will be key for them to keep their cool with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line.
“If we don’t play well we won’t win. Whatever distracts from playing well isn’t worth it,” said Stevens.
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Celtics forward Jae Crowder was in the middle of the bad blood between the two teams, poking John Wall in the face after the Wizards guard took a swipe at him late in a Celtics win in Boston back in January. Police needing to be stationed between the two locker rooms, and Crowder was fined $25,00 for his role in that incident.
“I’m sure y’all are going to be replaying that a lot in the next 24 hours,” Crowder said with a smirk. “Emotions took over. A lot was going on that game. It cost me a lot of money. I regret it. But just the emotions of it — it was a very emotional game for us. There was some bickering going back and forth the whole game and it just led into that. But I moved on from it.”
Smart said it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be “huge” for Boston to keep their emotions in check throughout the series.
“Everyone is too vital to this team so we can’t afford to lose anyone. It’s a must for us,” he said.
Smart, Crowder and Avery Bradley will have their hands full trying to keep Washington’s dynamic duo of Wall and Bradley Beal from taking over the series. Wall averaged 17.8 points, 8.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds in his four games against Boston, including a 27-7-7 night in a Wizards win in Washington on January 24. Beal averaged 22 points on 48 percent shooting in the regular season series, and poured in 31 points in that January win, which the Wizards wore all black as they entered the Verizon Center to symbolize a funeral for the Celtics. That game came just two weeks after Crowder and Wall had their incident at the TD Garden.
“With Wall and Beal, you’re not going to stop those guys. You just have to do your best to make everything as difficult as possible,” said Stevens. “That’s easier said than done.”
“A lot of guys, you know, they give him too much space,” Smart said of guarding Wall. “He’s a quick guy, so you have to respect him on that fact. Just be solid and don’t try to do too much on him.”
The Celtics are full of confidence after erasing a 2-0 series hole against the Bulls. They learned a lot about themselves during the series, coming together to help Isaiah Thomas following the death of his younger sister, Chyna. She was killed in a car accident the day before the series began.
“I learned how strong we were. We’re more than just a basketball team, we’re a family,” Smart said of the Bulls series. “Everybody picking up Isaiah with what he’s going through. Being down 0-2 against the 8-seed, and everyone calling us the worst 1-seed, it made us rally among each other and come back and win that series. It just shows a lot about us.”
“We were able to stay together and grow as a team. I feel like we’re playing our best basketball right now,” added Bradley.
“Our guys were tremendous how they supported each other, and the way we worked leading up to Game 3, the pride and the chip on their shoulder — ‘We can do this.’ I don’t know anything that has flipped like that,” said Stevens. “We were fortunate, but I thought we carried a sense of belief that no matter the odds, we’re going to tackle it.”
Thomas was not with the Celtics on Saturday, as he flew home to Tacoma, Washington after Friday night’s series clinching win in Chicago to attend his sister’s funeral. He will fly back to Boston and is expected to play on Sunday, though Stevens stressed if the emotions of Saturday got to be too much for Thomas, he can take the time he needs.
“Like I said [Friday] night, if it becomes too much and he needs to stay — whatever he needs,” said Stevens.
Thomas played in all six games against the Bulls, flying home to be with family when the series shifted from Boston to Chicago after Game 2, averaging 23 points per game. He averaged 27.8 points in Boston’s four games against Washington during the regular season.
Tune in to Celtics-Hawks Game 1 and every game of the series on 98.5 The Sports Hub — the flagship station of the Boston Celtics. Pregame coverage begins at 12:30pm!