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Four teams remain in the NBA Playoffs in the Eastern Conference after a number of intense battles in the first round of the post-season.
The number one seed Boston Celtics were forced to come from two games down to defeat the Chicago Bulls in their series, with Brad Stevens’ men reeling off four-straight victories to advance.
The Washington Wizards endured a similar battle in their first-round clash with the Atlanta Hawks. However, Scott Brooks’ side were able to up the ante in the final two games of the series to secure their place in the Conference Semi-Finals.
The Celtics and the Wizards will now face off for a place in the Conference Finals, with little to choose between the two sides during the regular season.
Boston boasted the superior record, but all that will go out the window when the teams step out on court for the opener match of their series at the TD Garden.
The Celtics were one of the hottest teams in the league entering the playoffs, having edged out the Cleveland Cavaliers to snatch the one seed in the Eastern Conference.
As a result, the club were handed a favourable contest against the lowest ranked side the Bulls. The two teams split their series during the regular term, but given the form of the Celtics towards the end of the campaign Stevens’ men were expected to brush aside Chicago.
Fred Hoiberg’s team had other ideas and rocked Boston by taking the opening game of the series at the TD Garden, using the experience of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and former Celtic Rajon Rondo to put them on the back foot.
Wade and Butler were on top form once again in game two, capitalising on mistakes from the Celtics to ease to a 14-point victory and within striking distance of the Semi-Finals.
However, Boston’s major off-season addition Al Horford sparked his side into life on the road with a dominant performance at both ends of the court at the United Center.
Isaiah Thomas kicked into gear to level the series at 2-2 with a 33-point performance in game four, while Avery Bradley rose to the occasion on offense and defense in the final two matches to drive the Celtics over the line.
Thomas was the standout star for the Celtics in the regular campaign, but Horford and Bradley’s performances will be even more encouraging for Stevens ahead of their clash with the Wizards, with strong defensive outings needed to fend off the threats of Bradley Beal and John Wall.
The clash between the Wizards and the Hawks was expected to be a close contest, although Brooks’ men came into the series with a higher seeding due to their superior record in the regular season.
Washington held the edge in their meetings over the course of the term, with three victories to Atlanta’s one, including one win on the road.
Wall came out the blocks firing in game one at the Verizon Center as he scored 32 points, with the home side benefitting from a dominant third quarter to secure a comfortable win.
The four-time All-Star maintained the level of his excellence in game two with another 32-point outing – aided by the fine play of Beal and Marcin Gortat alongside him – dragging the Wizards to an eight-point victory thanks to a rally in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta were down but not out and began their comeback on home soil as Paul Millsap found his best form to put the Wizards to the sword. Kent Bazemore, Dwight Howard and Millsap combined in game four with dominant displays to guide the Hawks back into the series with a 111-101 victory.
Beal responded to the situation and produced a 27-point performance to drive his side to a vital win in game five, with Wall and Gortat playing important support roles.
Wall took it on himself to send his team through to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals with a clinic, notching 42 points along with eight assists in a 16-point victory at Philips Arena.
Consistency will be the name of the game for Brooks’ men against the Celtics, with their defensive mettle being put under the test by Thomas and company.
There is little between the two sides heading into the series, although the Celtics did win four more regular season matches than their opponents. They’ll welcome the Wizards into TD Garden where Stevens’ men will be determined to put the pressure on from the offset.
Boston won both of the matches between the sides on home soil – both by decent margins, although the Wizards enjoyed dominance at the Verizon Center. Any side that can break serve in the home games will have an excellent chance of advancing to the Conference Finals.
Neither team boast a great deal of experience with Beal and Wall both in their mid-twenties, while Thomas and Bradley are in the similar age bracket.
Horford’s presence on the court could be crucial as it was in turning the tide against the Bulls, with the 30-year-old’s defensive role an important factor against Washington’s talented young duo.
Pressure could be decisive as well, with the Wizards playing under the weight of expectations. The club last reached the Conference Finals back in the 1978/79 campaign and their drought could play on the minds of Beal and Wall – determined to break Washington’s cycle of underachievement.
Both teams are evenly matches therefore it makes sense to back a lengthy series at odds of 9/5 2.80 +180 1.80 1.80 -0.56 with Sportsbet Sportsbook for a seven-match thriller.
Boston should have the edge due to the depth of options available to Stevens, with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown able to add youthful exuberance late in games. Backing the Celtics to win at 71/100 1.71 -141 0.71 -1.41 0.71 is the option to take along with a 4-3 scoreline at odds of 71/20 4.55 +355 3.55 3.55 -0.28 .
Boston Celtics To Beat Washington Wizards
Odds: 71/100 1.71 -141 0.71 -1.41 0.71
Boston Celtics To Beat Washington Wizards 4-3
Odds: 71/20 4.55 +355 3.55 3.55 -0.28
Series To Be Decided In Seven Matches
Odds: 9/5 2.80 +180 1.80 1.80 -0.56
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