If there is one thing we have learned through six games in this series, it’s that the Celtics-Wizards rivalry is real.
People always talk about a team’s window closing. On the flip side, Boston and Washington seem to share the common trait of being on their way up. It’s a huge reason why this is only the beginning of a fierce rivalry.
The birth of this rivalry actually occurred last year when Jae Crowder exchanged words with then-Wizards coach Randy Wittman, something that is very uncommon in the NBA. It is not a coincidence that Crowder has been in the middle of this physicality, with his exchange with Wall back in January in Boston. There was the funeral game. Kelly Olynyk versus Kelly Oubre, Jr. Isiah Thomas staring daggers at Markieff Morris after reigning a jumper over him. Amir Johnson incensing Marcin Gortat with his subtle bumps and holds. Brandon Jennings shamelessly baiting Terry Rozier. Morris repeatedly giving Olynyk post-play blows.
Regardless of what happens in Game 7 on tonight, most key players on these teams will be back next year, barring trades. John Wall and Bradley Beal will be in D.C. for a long time. It’s difficult to sit here, even as the Celtic fan I am, and say that this series isn’t a little more important for the Wizards than it is for the Celtics. And the reason is simple: The Wizards have little room to add salary this summer after they oddly jumped on giving Ian Mahimi a ridiculous four years and $64 million last offseason. For anyone complaining about Al Horford’s contract, let that Mahimi deal sink in for a minute. The Celtics on the other hand are practically certain to be better next year given their draft position. The Wizards have no such lottery pick coming.
Tonight’s Game 7 represents the entire season for these teams. The chances of toppling a Cleveland team that is an impressive 8-0 in the playoffs are slim, at best. Tonight is unequivocally the biggest game in Washington basketball in nearly four decades. Forget bragging rights. Franchise momentum is at stake in Game 7. For Danny Ainge and the Celtics, being in the conference finals would speak loud and clear to potential free agents. Add the impact player the Celtics are a lock to get in the draft, and all of a sudden the sell becomes very easy.
There will be fans who look at Game 7 as an all-or-nothing event. However, it is not the proper view in this case, for either team. Both teams had great seasons and, as expected, this has been a fantastic series. In the big picture, this series is already a win for Boston. There is not a Celtic fan alive who would NOT have taken this scenario in a heartbeat three weeks ago down 2-0 to Chicago. Outside of Morris hurting his ankle in Game 1, there have been no gifts in this series. If it wasn’t apparent already, Terry Rozier has let the world know that he will be a force to be reckoned with in this league for years to come. Jaylen Brown has proven that he’s going to be one of the game’s best wing defenders, at the very least, for the next decade-plus. Heck, even the Celtics’ longest-tenured player, Avery Bradley, is still improving.
This is a huge week for the Celtics. How much will they have to build on for next year? Where will they land in the lottery? The questions linger, but the mantra remains for this Celtics season. Every playoff win is an extra gift and all signs point to the Celtics leaving us with one last memorable present Monday night.