BOSTON – In what will be the fourth and final matchup between Boston and Washington tonight, the narrative for most of this season has been about how much these two teams don’t like each other.
It sounds like a rivalry in the making, although at least one member of the Wizards’ core doesn’t see it that way.
When asked if this was a good rivalry, Wizards guard Bradley Beal said, “I don't know. I wouldn't call it a rivalry. It's two teams competing their butts off. We're neck and neck right now. It's a matter of who wants it the most.”
The Celtics (44-26) have the second-best record in the East, with the Wizards (42-27) just 1.5 games behind them.
Washington leads the head-to-head series two games to one, so the significance of tonight’s game can not be stated enough.
Because of that, it’s likely to be a hard-fought, feisty battle with tempers at times getting the best of players on both sidelines.
“It’s always gonna get chippy,” Beal told reporters. “It's always gonna be physical but that's not the type of game we're trying to make it. That's not the type of team that we are. We're clean. We try to play hard, keep it clean and try to come out with a win at the end of the day and they try to do the same so I don't call it a rivalry. It is what it is. People gonna hype it up but we just come out and try to get a win.”
That may be true, but there’s no mistaking that what we’ve seen between these two teams this season isn’t your run-of-the-mill matchups, with the competitive juices flowing more heavily than normal.
In Boston’s 117-108 win over Washington on Jan. 11, Jae Crowder and John Wall had a heated verbal exchange after the game that ultimately had Crowder putting his index finger on Wall’s nose which prompted a response from Wall as both players were soon separated before any punches were thrown.
Both players received league fines for their roles in the incident.
When the two met 13 days later in Washington, all of the Wizards players came to the game donning all-black clothing, a symbol of what they talked candidly about what was going to be a funeral-like night for the Celtics.
They backed up the talk by burying the Celtics 123-108 in a game that wasn’t that close.
“We both want to win,” Beal said. “We're both competitors. We're both tough teams. We don't take nothing from nobody so we stand on what we believe in and if you're not on our team, you're definitely against us and they feel the same way.”
But more than anything, this game is about potential playoff positioning.
Boston and Washington have separated themselves as the second and third-best teams in the East. So whichever squad comes out as the No. 2 seed, would have home court advantage in case they met in the second round of the playoffs.
And as we’ve seen thus far, the home team has won every game this season.
“I just think it’s a very important game,” Wall told reporters. “They're a whole game and a half ahead of us. Their team is trying to find a rhythm the same way we are since All-Star break. We've kinda both been up and down. We know what type of game it could be. A physical game, a very important game. We know we already beat them twice at home and they came here and beat us here so just try to find a way to try to win the season's series so you never know if you're gonna meet up with this team in the playoffs. They got a great team, a great coaching staff, some great players and a superstar in Isaiah (Thomas) and the guys, everybody else they know their role and it'll be a tough match up. I just feel like we got to come out and play defense and we'll be fine.”
And as far as doing anything special prior to the game like they did with the all-black attire in January … “Nah,” Wall said. “Just going out here and trying to play a basketball game and try to come away with a road win against a tough team.”