WASHINGTON — “We don’t like them and they don’t like us,” Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas said. “That’s just what it is.”
That quote says it all. There is no love lost between the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics. And while that is a relatively new phenomenon, it is something that both teams haven’t really admitted until now.
The contempt was clear when Marcus Smart punched a hole in the wall in the depths of the Verizon Center earlier this season. It started when Jae Crowder accused Randy Wittman of cursing at him in the middle of a game. It only grew when Crowder used the Wizards’ record against the Celtics against them in his recruitment of Al Horford.
And now, with the scuffle between two Kellys, it will only continue to grow.
“It’s just two teams that really don’t like each other,” John Wall said.
The newest line of demarcation in the budding rivalry between these two fledgling Eastern Conference foes came at the 9:13 mark of the second quarter with Washington up by 21. Kelly Olynyk set a hard screen on Kelly Oubre where his shoulder and forearm appeared to hit above Oubre’s neck.
After the screen, Oubre popped up and charged at Olynyk. He knocked down the 7-footer with a shove and was subsequently ejected from the game after receiving a flagrant 2 penalty foul. The Celtics did not receive a technical on the play.
Kelly Oubre shoves Kelly Olynyk to the ground, Wizards and Celtics scrap pic.twitter.com/DDzCOrTB4W— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) May 5, 2017
Physicality has been the name of the game in this series. And on Thursday night, it boiled over. Scott Brooks said it best: Passionate play is going to be part of the postseason.
Everything is on the line. If you’re down 3-0 in the playoffs, you’re dead in the water. The Wizards knew that. The Celtics knew that. Neither team was going to back down at any point.
“When you play in the playoffs and you’re fighting for something special, you’re going to play with passion,” Scott Brooks said.
As long as its within the rules, Brooks said, there is nothing wrong with passionate play. The play Oubre made was not the wisest, he said, “but you keep getting hit in the head, you might respond that way.”
Olynyk, who has a history of questionably dirty play, barely played in the game after the incident. But because of his actions, Oubre, who has been the first man off of the bench and the primary backup to Otto Porter, may see a suspension for Game 4.
If that is the case, the Wizards will be one wing short on a bench already running on fumes. A single moment of grandstanding and bravado may end up costing Washington dearly in the long run.
Pride is a cardinal sin. It is a double-edged sword that, in a moment, can make one feel as expansive as the universe itself. In the next, it can shrink you down to a spec of dust.
Pride is on the line for both Washington and Boston for different reasons. Washington hasn’t reached the 50 win mark in nearly 40 years. It was downtrodden and desolate franchise for decades until recently.
The Celtics are filled with players that everyone counted out. Their best player is 5’9 and can’t defend. They’re small. They had been bounced in the first round for two consecutive years and, before making the playoffs for the third year in a row, many considered their more recent accomplishments fool’s gold.
Now, the chance to prove everyone wrong is on the line. Each side has the chance to prove they are the bigger man than the man across from them. The passion with which they play will determine who comes out on top, but too much passion could end up knocking them back down to square one.
I have no idea how this series will turn out. I don’t know what the outcome of Game 4 will be. I don’t know if Kelly Oubre will play. I don’t even know if Isaiah Thomas will have all of his teeth in on Sunday.
But what I do know is this: If there were no Eastern Conference rivalries before Thursday night, there is most definitely one now. The contempt is boiling and the feeling is mutual. The Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics do not like each other.