The backcourt in this semifinal takes center stage as a pair of MVP candidates on each side goes head-to-head in perhaps the most interesting of the four second round series in these NBA playoffs. While both the Wizards and the Celtics had a few early stumbles initially in the playoffs, they quickly righted the ship to close out tough first round opponents and move forward to this one.
Talk about this year’s Boston squad begins with Isaiah Thomas, who punches far above his weight class and has been stellar all season long. A scoring machine, he’s the engine that powers the Celtics’ offense and is prone to making some incredible single-handed runs on the scoreboard. He’s not alone in terms of impact though, as head coach Brad Stevens has a ton of options in the starting lineup and on the bench to throw at opponents.
That will present a big challenge for the Wizards, who have a pretty similar makeup thanks to their All-Star backcourt. John Wall rightfully gets all of the headlines in D.C. but don’t discount the x-factor his wingman Bradley Beal plays each game in terms of scoring and defending. Marcin Gortat also has emerged as a major piece of the puzzle for the team and provides plenty of interior presence as well.
The end result is a matchup combining two of the more entertaining teams left in the postseason. While at times this one might turn into a fast-paced back-and-forth between the big time guards, you probably won’t find many complaining when all is said and done because this series has fun written all over it.
No. 4 Washington Wizards (49-33) vs. No. 1 Boston Celtics (53-29)
Game 1 - Sunday, April 30, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 2 - Tuesday, May 2, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
Game 3 - Thursday, May 4, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Game 4 - Sunday, May 7, 6:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
Game 5 (if necessary) - Wednesday, May 10, time TBD (TNT)
Game 6 (if necessary) - Friday, May 12, time TBD (ESPN)
Game 7 (if necessary) - Monday, May 15, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
Note: Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 will be played at TD Garden in Boston while Games 3, 4, 6 will be at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Keys for Washington
The backcourt is going to get all the attention (and rightfully so) but if there’s one area where Washington can really take advantage of it’s down in the front court. Gortat has been a solid presence on both ends down low and Markieff Morris might just average a double-double in this series with his ability to get to the rim. We all know John Wall and Bradley Beal will feature prominently in this one but their teammates’ productions will determine whether they make that elusive trip to the conference finals.
Keys for Boston
While it wasn’t fully exposed over the length of the series against the Bulls, there’s little question that Isaiah Thomas’ defense will play a big role for the Celtics if they want to win this one. We know he can score of course, but how well he defends his opposite number John Wall will be key. We could see a few rotations so Thomas gets a breath guarding somebody else, allowing him to save some energy for the offensive end as a result but he will still have to deal with a number of other scorers if so. Don’t discount the Al Horford and Marcin Gortat matchup down low because the boards could play a big role over the course of seven games.
It seems highly unlikely that either John Wall or Isaiah Thomas wind up with this year’s MVP but they’ve had the kind of seasons where their candidacy should rightfully be taken quite seriously. Now we get to see the pair face off in what should be a meeting of two of the best backcourts in the league. If you’re looking for scoring in bunches, big-time transition three-pointers and some underrated play down in the paint, this is certainly the series for you.
Neither of these two teams likes each other all that much so expect a testy semifinals matchup that goes the distance. Each side has an Achilles’ heel or two but there probably won’t be a minute that goes by in this one that isn’t worth watching. Boston was the superior team over the course of the regular season and has the edge on the coaching front but this feels like Washington’s time to step up and make a big move in the East.
Prediction: Wizards in seven
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)