WALTHAM, Mass. — The Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards have developed into one of the NBA’s most unexpected rivalries in recent seasons after a series of flare-ups between the teams. As the teams prepare to meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Celtics players downplayed the notion of bad blood on the eve of Game 1 but acknowledged the possibilities for tempers to flare again.
“I think it’s just two teams playing hard, and there’s a lot of guys on their end that play hard, play nasty, play feisty, and I think we have some guys like that,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder, who’s been a featured player in many of the Wizards incidents over the past two seasons. “Two teams like that come together, you have little situations and encounters, but I think it’s just two teams playing hard.”
Crowder admitted that he likes that the two teams seem to elevate their play when they go against each other.
“If you don’t stand up to it, those guys will punk you. So you’ve got to step up to the challenge a little bit and be ready to compete at a high level because those guys are going to bring it,” said Crowder. “It’s all basketball. They just play the game at a different level than a lot of teams, so you just have to respect it. I do as an opponent. I respect them as an opponent.”
Added Celtics guard Avery Bradley: “I think that’s the fun thing about basketball. It kind of made it into a rivalry. They have some good players on their team, and we know it’s going to be a battle this entire playoff series.”
Controlling emotions is “huge — it’s huge,” said Smart. “Everybody’s vital to the team, so we can’t afford to lose anybody.”
With a quick turnaround heading into Game 1 on Sunday (ABC, 1 p.m. ET), Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he stressed only a few keys to his team during its film session and walkthrough after the team arrived home from Chicago on Saturday afternoon. While Stevens likely spent much of the team’s film session on an area such as transition defense, he acknowledged that the Celtics must not let their emotions overcome them.
“If we don’t play well, we won’t win,” said Stevens. “Whatever distracts from playing well is not worth it.”
Crowder got fined $25,000 for his role in an incident that included poking Wall in the nose during a January meeting at TD Garden. The night ended with Boston police stationed between the locker rooms to prevent further escalation. Reflecting on the incident, Crowder said Saturday that he regretted it.
“I’m sure y’all are gonna be replaying that a lot in the next 24 hours,” Crowder said with a smile. “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.”
So is there lingering bad blood?
“Two teams playing hard. That’s all I’m gonna say,” said Crowder. “I don’t know if it’s bad blood. I think those guys play very, very hard, and we do as well. So you get that and you play each other so many times, you kind of ask for bad blood [when] you play a team four times in one season. I just think it was two teams playing hard.”
The Celtics went through their off-day work without star guard Isaiah Thomas, who flew to Tacoma, Washington, after Friday’s series-clinching win over the Chicago Bulls in order to attend the funeral of his sister, Chyna, who died in a car accident.
Thomas, who was accompanied by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and assistant coach Jerome Allen, was expected back Saturday night and is scheduled to play in Sunday’s Game 1, though Stevens told Thomas to take more time if Saturday’s services were too overwhelming.
“We all send our best,” said Stevens. “It’s hard to think about how he feels right now. … His plan is to come back today. But, like I said last night, if it becomes too much and he needs to stay, whatever he needs.”
Stevens wouldn’t tip his hand about whether the Celtics would tinker with the starting lineup. Boston moved Gerald Green to the first unit in Game 3 of the Bulls series and won four straight games.
Said a cagey Stevens: “I don’t know if I anticipate any lineup changes.”