Two elite point guards, Isaiah Thomas and John Wall, will clash in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals tonight (UAE 09:00 pm) after both led their respective teams to an opening round playoff win in six games.
The teams split the season series 2-2 in what became a heated rivalry, due to flagrant fouls and a constant barrage of trash talk, which was typified by Wall and Jae Crowder’s altercation at the end of a game in January. The boiling tension over the past year has resulted in a chippy rivalry but simmering beneath the surface is an intriguing clash. While both teams have solid players who will contribute, undoubtedly progression will rest on the shoulders of Wall or Thomas.
Both point guards lead the offensive tempo, they also carry the responsibility of getting their teammate’s open shots. But there’s a case to be made that Wall has more pieces around him and while he was struggling in the season series against the Celtics, averaging a season-low 17.8 PPG, Bradley Beal was able to step up and make an impact as he averaged 28.3 PPG in the last three games against the Celtics and shot 50 percent from downtown.
Wall also struggled from the field against the Celtics, managing 37.3 percent and 15.4 percent from beyond the arc. But the tandem of Wall and Beal in the backcourt could prove to be a handful for the Celtics defense in a playoff series due to their volume scoring and clutch play in the fourth quarter. The dynamic duo combined for 73 points in the clinching game six of their series against the Atlanta Hawks.
On the Celtics side, Thomas was a nightmare for Washingtons defense, averaging 27.8 PPG and creating offense for his teammates. However, he was not performing well on defense against the Wizards with the team’s defensive efficiency at 106.7 without Isaiah and 113 when he was on the court. Washington also shot a better three-point percentage when Thomas was on defense at 38.5 percent.
The playoffs will bring out a higher level of intensity between the two and, in particular, Wall and Thomas, who lead their teams in points. However, it could come down to the battle of the boards and defense will be the difference-maker if both point guards are playing to their optimum.
Marcin Gortat is the leading rebounder and shot blocker for the Wizards, while Al Horford holds down the fort for the Celtics in the post. Avery Bradley and Crowder will be the X-Factors for Boston and their contributions will also be crucial.
Ultimately, Washington have a better all-around team, led by Wall who has hit his stride in the playoffs averaging 30 PPG and 10 APG. The Celtics supporting cast are slightly less productive than their counterparts in Washington and they have deficiencies on defense.
Taking that all into account, we’re predicting the Wizards will steal a game on the road and close out the series in six.
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