Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards meet at 8 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.
Playing Under Pressure
The Boston Celtics claimed Sunday afternoon that they feel no pressure heading into tonight’s do-or-die Game 7. They may not feel it, but it’s there – for both teams.
This is it for the C’s and the Wizards; win, or their respective seasons are over. That’s about as much pressure as a team can play under.
So the question is, which team will perform at a higher level with the pressure pushing down? We’ve already seen Washington succeed under such circumstances, as it was on the verge of elimination entering Friday’s thrilling Game 6 that featured a game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds. Boston, meanwhile, has played at a high level on a regular basis this season when it has felt its back against a wall, but it has not faced elimination this season.
The pressure is on. Whichever team is able to absorb that pressure better will win this game.
Isaiah Thomas mentioned playing Game 7 at home five separate times Sunday afternoon while he spoke to the media for about seven minutes. Clearly, home-court advantage is at the forefront of his mind, as it should be.
Boston worked all season long to secure the right to play any Game 7 throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs on its home court. It earned that right by winning a conference-best 53 games, and now it gets to use that right to its advantage tonight.
Thomas predicted that TD Garden is “probably going to be the best we’ve ever seen” it during tonight’s game. Meanwhile, Al Horford mentioned how much of an impact a home crowd can make on a visiting team in the Playoffs, something he has experienced as a visitor inside the Garden.
The Celtics worked all season long for the opportunity to play a Game 7 at home. It should be a heck of an experience watching them use it to their advantage tonight.
The Other Guys
Another thing Thomas mentioned in regard to playing this game on Boston’s home court is the fact that it should impact the team’s role players in a positive manner. “We’re at home,” he said, “so they’ll be fine.”
John Wall appears to believe in this notion, as he has said multiple times throughout this series that “role players play better at home.” The numbers support the two All-Star point guards’ beliefs.
Take Boston, for instance. Its reserves just shot 2-for-15 from the field during Game 6 Friday night on the road. That effort came after they combined to shoot 11-for-26 from the field during Game 5 Wednesday night at home.
Both teams’ non-star players have played far better at home during this series than they have on the road. The C’s hope that trend continues tonight.
Bradley’s Shooting Touch
Avery Bradley has been outstanding during the last two games. He has averaged 28.0 points on 59.5 percent shooting during those contests, including a 7-for-13 performance from long range.
Boston is a very difficult team to beat when Bradley is shooting the ball at that level. His shooting creates space for Thomas to go to work off the dribble, and it provides a secondary consistent threat from the perimeter.
Bradley shot 47.0 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from 3-point range during the 34 wins he participated in during the regular season. He has shot 50.5 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from 3-point range during Boston’s seven postseason victories thus far.
If he shoots it at that level tonight, the odds say the Celtics will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Defense Wins Game 7s
The old cliché is that “defense wins championships.” Tonight, defense will win a Game 7.
Boston must exert all of its energy toward containing the backcourt combination of Wall and Bradley Beal. Those two players combined to score 59 of Washington’s 92 points during Game 6, led by 33 points from Beal. The Wizards are almost impossible team to beat when those two players are playing at that type of level.
The Celtics have multiple players who are capable of slowing Wall and Beal down, however. Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown are all high-level perimeter defenders who are built for these scenarios. Boston needs those players to harass Wall and Beal from start to finish tonight.
There are other capable players on Washington’s roster, most notably Markieff Morris and Otto Porter Jr. However, if Boston’s defense can prevent Wall and/or Beal from having All-Star caliber nights, it should be in great shape as the fourth quarter winds down.