WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) — The already short break between rounds of the NBA playoffs won’t provide much of a rest for Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas left from the Celtics’ first-round series-clinching victory over Chicago on Friday night to fly to Tacoma, Washington, and attend his sister’s funeral. He was expected to fly cross-country and arrive in Boston early Sunday morning, in time to play in the 1 p.m. start of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Wizards.
“It’s hard to think about how he feels right now,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said on Saturday, the only off-day between rounds, after the rest of the team went through a film session and walkthrough.
Stevens said he and the rest of the team would have accompanied Thomas for support if there had been no game on Sunday. Instead, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and assistant coach Jerome Allen went with Thomas.
“I know it’s going to be hard on him,” guard Avery Bradley said. “But we’re going to make sure we’re here for him and we’re prepared. I’m sure he’s going to be prepared for the game.”
Thomas scored 12 points but played only 25 minutes in the 105-83 victory over the Bulls on Friday night, when Boston eliminated Chicago and advanced in the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2012.That earned then a second-round matchup with the Wizards, who eliminated the Atlanta Hawks in six games on Friday night.
The Celtics and Wizards split their regular-season matchups — several of them turning testy.
Here are some things to look for in the series:
The Celtics and Wizards have been brewing an increasingly bitter rivalry since last year, when Boston swept the season series.
In a mid-January game, Celtics forward Jae Crowder drew a technical for jawing with the Washington bench and then-coach Randy Wittman. Boston’s Marcus Smart broke Bradley Beal’s nose and gave him a concussion while going up for a layup.
In the offseason, Crowder disparaged the Wizards in the effort to recruit Al Horford, who was also being courted by Washington but signed with the Celtics. Then, in the first matchup this season, Wizards guard John Wall was ejected for knocking Smart to the ground.
After the game, the teams exchanged words and Crowder wound up wagging his finger in Wall’s face. Police officers were summoned to the hallway between the locker rooms to make sure the situation didn’t get out of control. (Crowder was fined $25,000 and Wall $15,000.)
Two weeks later, the Wizards showed up in all-black — dressed for a funeral, Wall said.
“It’s playoff basketball. Everybody wants to win,” Smart said on Saturday. “If you’re not passionate about it, don’t bother doing it.”
Washington has not reached the conference finals since drafting Wall with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft. Now in his fifth season teamed up with Beal, the Wizards backcourt is developing into the pair they had always envisioned.
Wall and Beal averaged 55 points and 12.5 assists per game in the series against Atlanta. Beal he could tell at the shootaround before Game 6 that Wall was ready to finish off the Hawks.
“Whenever he has that look in his eye … you could just tell he was locked in,” Beal said after Wall scored 42 in Friday night’s win. “He was ready to go. We just feed off of that.”
Bradley, who has typically had to guard the opponent’s top player, said
“They’re one of the best backcourts in the NBA,” he said. “I know our entire team is looking forward to the challenge.”