Having to go through the Washington Wizards in the NBA’s Play-In Tournament is not ideal for the Boston Celtics.
But as fate would have it, the two Eastern Conference squads tip-off Tuesday to decide who clinches the No. 7 seed and a right to advance to the playoffs.
As the Celtics struggled all season with inconsistencies, the Wizards are trending in the opposite direction. Boston took the season series, 2-1, but since they last saw each other, Washington has gone on quite the run to close out the regular season.
Of course, that was much in part thanks to Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal.
“It’s going to take a team effort,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said of Beal after practice Monday. “I’m not going to be on him the whole time, and the way we play defense, we switch a lot. So it’s going to take a full team effort. Especially a guy like him who can score the ball from any position on the court. You just go out there and try to make it as hard as you can for him.”
Beal finished the season second in the NBA in scoring with an average of 31.3 points per game over 60 contests. In every game against Boston this year, the three-time All-Star guard dropped 35 or more points.
And then there’s Russell Westbrook.
“Phenomenal, man,” Smart said of Westbrook. “Phenomenal to still be doing it, and be doing the things that he’s doing and accomplishing. He’s years in and it’s a sight to see of inspiration. You got to tip your hat out to that guy. He puts in the work, he works hard, and he shows it on the court day in and day out.”
Since a trade to the Wizards in December, and especially in the second half of the season, Westbrook has been going off.
Washington finished out the season 17-6 to content for a play-in spot and Westbrook recorded a triple-double in 19 of those 23 games.
“Man, that dude is incredible. He’s incredible,” Walker said after practice. “I know him personally, so you know for me, it’s just like, wow. To do what he’s been doing over these last couple of years, man, it’s just something special and he’s a special player. He’s one of the greatest the game has ever seen. He’s such a hard worker, you know, it’s just been paying off. Even when everybody keeps on doubting him, every single time people doubt him and doubt him and he just overcomes it every time. We know what we’re facing. We know what type of competitor he is, know who he is as a player, who he has been over the years. So, you know, we got to bring it.”
Celtics-Wizards is slated for Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.