NBA playoffs 2017: Isaiah Thomas helps make Celtics-Wizards hard-edged series we expected

The Celtics took Game 2 of their series with the Wizards behind 53 points from Isaiah Thomas. And the series took a decidedly rougher turn as the teams recalled the bad blood between them.

BOSTON — Wizards point guard John Wall was sitting courtside on Monday afternoon, the only day off between Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals here at TD Garden. The Wizards had lost the first game of the series to the Celtics, but the game itself was notable for what it was missing: bad blood, the sense that these were two teams that entered the fray carrying true enmity between them.

That was supposed to be part-and-parcel with this series, given two years of meetings between these teams that featured nose-poking (that was Wall’s nose being poked), a postgame police presence set up between the locker rooms, a broken nose, an ejection (that was Wall), repeated accusations of dirty play on both sides and a night spent in funeral attire (allegedly Wall’s idea). But Game 1 was mild when it came to such hijinks.

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When the lack of fireworks was mentioned to Wall, he smiled. “We all had our back-and-forth, we are all going to talk trash, that’s just the competitive nature of everybody,” Wall said. “Nobody is trying to injure anybody out here. We’re just trying to have a clean-cut game. But there’s two teams who are trying to play hard, trying to win, but don’t like each other while you’re between those two lines. That’s how the game is supposed to go.”

Oh, but Game 2 was a bit less clean-cut. At last.

It was thrilling offensive basketball, thanks mostly to the performances of Wall (40 points and 13 assists) and Boston guard Isaiah Thomas, whose 53 points powered another Celtics win, this one in overtime by a 129-119 count. The Celtics finished the game shooting 51.1 percent from the field, and the Wizards (46.5 percent) shot well, too.


Thomas and Wall were the anchors for both teams in Game 2. As Thomas noted, they have been friends for years now, and Thomas has always taken Wall’s Wizards-Celtics rivalry antics with a shrug. But on Tuesday, it was Thomas who brought an edge to the game, providing a highlight when hotheaded forward Markieff Morris was left guarding him on a switch with just 48 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.

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Thomas danced Morris into an awkward, flat-footed position, then pulled up and knocked down a 16-footer on him. Thomas, nearly a foot shorter than Morris, nonetheless stared his opponent down for the length of the floor. The steam shooting from Morris’ ears was evident.

Thomas, who had a tooth knocked out by Wizards forward Otto Porter on an incidental play in the first game, needed dental surgery on three teeth Monday. He was not sure he would play in Game 2 and told coach Brad Stevens he was a likely no-go. Thomas had to return to the hospital because of the severity of the postsurgical swelling in his mouth. Worse, Thomas had to wear a mouthguard, and had trouble engaging in his favorite player-to-player dialog because of it.

“I tried, but it wouldn’t let me so I had to take it out,” Thomas said. “I like to talk trash, that’s just the game of basketball, but I had to get used to it. I was stuttering a few times in the first half, I was just — I had to learn how to take it out with my tongue.”

There were hard fouls, like when Al Horford was sent tumbling into the first row after Morris chucked him down in a chase for a rebound — Morris injured his ankle in Game 1 when he landed badly on Horford’s foot after a jump shot, though Morris declined to accuse Horford of trying to hurt him. After the game, though, Morris was vague about whether he was sending Horford a message.


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“I’m not dealing with that,” Morris said. “I said what I had to say to him. It is what it is. Hard foul.”

Earlier, Thomas had gotten a foot caught up with Wizards center Marcin Gortat and hit the floor face first. Thomas then whacked his head on the nose of Porter with 7:47 to play in the third quarter and, finally, it felt like we had a real Celtics-Wizards series on our hands: There was blood. Porter returned once the bleeding stopped, but before he did, Thomas and Morris each were hit with technical fouls for being too aggressively chatty with each other during the ensuing timeout.


Now, that’s more like it. There has not been much defense played in this series through two games, but we should still get the kind of rough-and-tumble Celtics-Wizards shenanigans that this series was billed to be. And with the Wizards heading back to Washington in a near-desperate situation in Game 3, we could see more.

“We’re not playing tough enough,” Morris said. “We had the advantage late in the game, and all we had to do was play tough. We didn’t have to make shots, we didn’t have to get stops, we just had to play tough.”

Hey, that might mean more blood.


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