Boston Celtics (1) vs. Washington Wizards (4)
How they got here: The Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls in six games while the Wizards did the same to the Atlanta Hawks. Both teams closed out their series on Friday night.
You can read about the Eastern Conference first round HERE.
How the Celtics can win: The key to Boston is going to be secondary scoring. Isaiah Thomas is unquestionably the best scorer on this team and he’s going to get his, but the Celtics need big contributions from others as well or they could end up in a similar 2-0 hole as the one they did to the Bulls. Avery Bradley was excellent to close out the Chicago series and Gerald Green really thrived when he was inserted into the starting line-up. Al Horford and Jae Crowder also came up big for the Celtics. They’re going to need to keep that play going for Boston to beat a very good Wizards squad.
Speaking of Avery Bradley, his defensive prowess is going to be key to this series. The Wizards have the best backcourt in the East in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Avery is going to find himself matched up with both of them at different times throughout the series, but it’s the Bradley vs. Bradley match-up that should hold a lot of intrigue for the Celtics. The Celtics’ Bradley managed to frustrate Jimmy Butler and force him to alter shots throughout the Bulls series. Bradley Beal isn’t big enough to fight over screens and if Avery Bradley can shut him down or slow down his scoring that will be key to a Celtics victory.
Boston also has the edge in second unit production. The Wizards did improve their second unit later in the season with the additions of Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings but were outscored by 33.4 points per 100 possessions when Bradley Beal wasn’t on the floor. The Celtics can count on meaningful production of a variety of sources off the bench Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Kelly Olynyk all looked great against the Bulls and the ability for Bradley Stevens to deploy different line-up combinations to create match-up problems for opposing teams will be very important to a Boston victory.
The Celtics best line-ups against Chicago involved going small by taking Amir Johnson out of the starting line-up and going with Gerald Green and moving Jae Crowder to the 4. This allowed Al Horford to draw out Robin Lopez and run the pick and roll with Isaiah Thomas. If the Celtics can do the same to neutralize Marcin Gortat down low, they can open up lanes and have a better chance at winning the battle on the glass as well. Al Horford’s ability to space the floor will be extremely important to a Celtics victory.
How the Wizards can win: John Wall and Bradley Beal. Washington’s back court is going to carry them throughout this series and while Avery Bradley will probably be able to stymie one of them pretty effectively (likely Beal), the other can break out.
For Washington to win, John Wall has to dominate this series like he did the Atlanta one. Wall was magnificent against the Hawks as he averaged 29.5 points, 10.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals. He can take over a series and for the Wizards to beat the Celtics, he’s going to have to be the best player on the floor.
Beal is going to have to somehow shed Avery Bradley and get his shot going as well. He is lethal on the catch-and-shoot and if he’s able to get quality looks and generate a lot of offense, he’s going to score. Wall and Beal combined for 73 points in the Wizards’ series clinching win over the Hawks. If these two are able to take over this series offensively, Washington will advance.
The Celtics are one of the best three point teams in the NBA. If Washington doesn’t get it’s three point production going, it’s going to get caught trailing and have to force shots to catch up. That’s never a good position to be in. Wall and Beal can score in bunches but they are going to need Bojan Bogdanovic to hit threes and Markief Morris to spread that floor and get hot to win.
The Wizards are also going to need to control the pace of play. The more physical and grinding the game, the more it will benefit Washington. The Wizards are a more physical team, so much so that Paul Millsap accused them of “playing MMA”. They need Markief Morris and Marcin Gortat to bully the Celtics and grind them down in order to win this series.
Defense will be the deciding factor above all though. Boston had the better defense all season as it was ranked 12th to the Wizards 20th. That all changed post all-star break when Washington, with a far more difficult schedule, had the 9th best defense to Boston’s 18th. If Washington can find that high level defensive play again, after seemingly losing it in the Atlanta Hawks series, they will be able to beat the Celtics.
The Wizards are also going to have to exploit Isaiah Thomas on defense as much as they can. Stevens will likely try to match him up with Otto Porter. The Wizards need to make switches and adjustments to get favourable match-ups as much as possible.
Why you should watch: The is going to be a fun series. The guard play alone is worth tuning in for. You’ve got the king of the fourth quarter, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley vs. John Wall and Bradley Beal in what promises to be an exciting match-up.
You also have the potential for high drama and physical play. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was 1984 and it resulted in a fight to end the series. History can easily repeat itself here with the presence of personalities like Markief Morris and Marcus Smart. Play is going to be physical, it’s going to be heated and the war of words is going to be highly entertaining.
This is a series that’s going to offer just about everything and unlike the other match-up in the East, the outcome is far from predictable. Can Isaiah Thomas prove that a team can go deep in the playoffs with a 5’9” point guard? Are Wall and Beal too much for the Celtics to handle? Will Boston overwhelm Washington with their depth? I don’t know. I really don’t have any clue who is going to win this series.
Who will win? I really don’t know. All I know is that it’s going to be a great series. I don’t know that Boston can stop John Wall, but I also don’t know that Washington can overcome the Celtics depth. It’s going to be an exciting series. It’s going to go long and you should watch it. It’s two very good teams that can offer each other huge match-up problems.
Prediction: The prediction is that I will enjoy this series. But I know that you ultimately want me to pick a winner. I just don’t see the Wizards overcoming the Celtics depth and ability to disrupt their offensive flow so I’m going to go with the Celtics.
Boston in seven.