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.”

Blakely: Celtics' success lies in balancing big-money deals with bargains

Blakely: Celtics' success lies in balancing big-money deals with bargains

BOSTON – When it comes to stockpiling talent, few in the NBA have done it better in the past couple of years than the Golden State Warriors, as evidenced by them winning two of the past three NBA championships.
 
In 2015, Andre Iguodala was the NBA Finals MVP but it was the play another reserve, Festus Ezeli, who in the third quarter of the decisive Game 6, scored eight of his 10 points and helped extend a two-point halftime edge into a 12-point lead going into the fourth in what eventually was an eight-point series-clinching victory.

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 We have seen the Cleveland Cavaliers make deep playoff runs led by their Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but the contributions of youngsters such as Matt Dellavedova (now in Milwaukee) also helped.
 
Indeed, often lost in the success of title-contending teams is how they manage to have enough max-salaried talent on the roster, while also augmenting the lineup with contributions from younger players or inexpensive veterans on team-friendly contracts.
 
Balancing the best of those two worlds is among the many reasons why the Celtics are considered a legit contender to get to the NBA Finals this season out of the East.
 
A lot has been made of the team’s signing of Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $127.8 million contract.

But what really makes the Celtics so special is how they have been able to add a max-salaried player each of the past two seasons (Al Horford and Hayward) at a time when the contributions of Isaiah Thomas ($6.26 million this year) and Jae Crowder ($6.8 million this season) are significant not only in terms of what they do on the floor but even more so in how little they make salary-wise relative to those contributions.
 
Boston getting the most out of talent playing on low-salary deals will be instrumental in their ability to build off the success of last season when the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2012.
 
And while the Warriors have achieved this by adding veterans on the cheap (David West), Boston has been more traditional from the standpoint of getting as much bang as they can from players on their rookie deals.
 
Boston currently has 16 players with guaranteed contracts.
 
Of that total, nine (Marcus Smart; Terry Rozier; Jaylen Brown; Ante Zizic; Abdel Nader; Jayson Tatum; Semi Ojeleye; Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele) are on their rookie contracts.
 
“You always need young guys,” Austin Ainge, the Celtics' director of player personnel, told CSNNE.com. “Your veteran guys make a lot of money and so you need some guys on rookie contracts to fill out your roster.”
 
This is especially true for teams that are in the hunt to win an NBA title.
 
Ainge recalled how the use of players on rookie deals was instrumental in Boston bringing home Banner 17 in 2008.
 
“We had [Rajon] Rondo and Kendrick Perkins and Leon Powe and Big Baby [Glen Davis] in 2008,” Ainge said. “You need guys like that. You look at the teams in the finals the past few years, they’ve got some young guys on lower money contracts contributing. That’s important.”