Time: 8:30 PM EST, March 18th, 2011
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Officials: Jason Phillips John Goble Josh Tiven
TV: CSN-NE, FX-HO Radio: WEEI
The Line: The Celtics are 4-3 against the Rockets since the dawn of the
KG-era. The Celtics and Rockets have split their matchups the last two
regular seasons, and the Rockets won the only other match-up the two teams
will have this year. The visiting team has won the game in the last six of
the meetings between these two teams, and the Celtics are visitors tonight.
Tonight should be a good game. Both the Celtics and the Rockets are entering this final stretch of NBA games with significant and achievable goals within their sights. For the Celtics, they're trying to first and foremost remain healthy going into the post-season, but beyond that they've got their eyes firmly locked in the #1 overall seed in the East, for which they are a half game behind the streaking and trending (Bulls, so hot right now, Bulls) Chicago Bulls.
The Rockets' goal might be a little less showy, but in reality is easily the more desperate situation. The Rockets have had a bit of a down year, and a tough one beyond even the losses. They lost Yao Ming to season ending injury early, but then they also pulled off multiple trades this year, constantly tweaking their roster. However, it seems that all that work is starting to pay dividends, and the Rockets are 10-4 over their last 14 games (7-3 over their last 10). Their offense and defense are really starting to come together, and the Rockets now sit only 2 games behind Memphis for the final playoff seat in the West. For a team that a month ago was 5 games below .500, to be one game up from even and only two games out of a playoff spot is a pretty significant turnaround.
Houston however has not been great this season at beating 'elite' teams. In fact, despite getting multiple shots at the top dogs (Spurs, Bulls, Mavs, Lakers, Celtics), the only one they've managed to beat in the New Year is the Boston Celtics, and in Boston at that.
And I'm not trying to sell a 'revenge' angle or anything silly like that, what I am saying is that Houston is unpredictable. While it is entirely..heck even probable if you look at the teams' recent matchups...that Boston might do to Houston what they did to Indiana and Milwaukee, it would also not shock me if this was a 2 point game late into the 4th quarter. Houston is a scrappy team with everything to gain by a win here against Boston. The Rockets need wins in the worst way, and their schedule going forward is no cake-walk. A win tonight against Boston goes a long way in terms of morale and confidence going forward, as well as helping them in the playoff race, so while I don't doubt that Boston would like to win this game, Houston needs it more. Boston is going to have to want it more to get out of Texas with a win tonight, and they're going to need it when they turn around and play the Hornets in New Orleans tomorrow.
Probable Starting Matchups
Rajon Rondo vs Kyle Lowry
Ray Allen vs Kevin Martin
Paul Pierce vs Chase Budinger
Kevin Garnett vs Patrick Patterson
Nenad Krstic vs Chuck Hayes
Shaquille O'Neal (knee) out
Jermaine O'Neal (knee) out
Von Wafer (calf) out
Yao Ming (ankle) out
Terrence Williams (abdominal) questionable
Luis Scola (knee) questionable
Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson and Rajon Rondo all attended the University of Kentucky
Von Wafer played for the Rockets during the 2008‐09 season
Assistant Coach Mike Longabardi worked for Houston from 2003‐07
Jermaine O’Neal and Brad Miller were teammates in Indiana from
Goran Dragic played with Shaquille O’Neal in Phoenix during the 2008‐09 season
Hasheem Thabeet and Ray Allen both attended the University of Connecticut
Celtics Assistant Coach Roy Rogers and Rockets Assistant Coach T.R. Dunn both attended the University of Alabama..
Terrence Williams and Troy Murphy were teammates in New Jersey earlier during the 2010‐11 season
Match-Up Of The Night: Kyle Lowry V Rajon Rondo
While Houston has better scorers (Kevin Martin) and more consistently dominating presences (Luis Scola), Kyle Lowry has been the man in Houston lately. Over the last 10 games, he's averaging 18.1 points and 7.1 assists, and shooting nearly 50% from the field. He's a tenacious and bold defender, and he's one of the point guards in the league at initiating contact while driving to the hoop, and if he smells weakness from Rondo, he'll be aggressive about trying to capitalize.
Rajon Rondo meanwhile is hardly on a hot streak at the moment. While his play in the last game against the Pacers was not nearly as bad as his box-score might indicate (zero points), it was far from one of his best. Kevin Garnett said earlier in the week that Rondo is 'playing hurt', and there has been rampant speculation about the motivations behind Rondo's recent decrease in production.
Keys To The Game For The Good Guys:
1) The Big 3 Have To Be Big- While Lowry/Rondo might be my pick for match-up of the night, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett are the real keys to Boston's game tonight. Paul Pierce needs to take advantage of Houston's young starting SF, Chase Budinger, and attempt at least 15-20 field goals tonight. Ray Allen needs to be pesky and persistent on defense against Kevin Martin, and be his usual mobile self on offense, because Kevin Martin is fully capable of dropping 30 on any team if he gets comfortable in a game. Ray Allen needs to run the 'can-do' right out of him. Kevin Garnett needs to make sure Luis Scola doesn't find a groove in tonight's game. If you can remember last April, Luis Scola came up big in Houston's overtime victory in Boston with 27 points and 11 rebounds in 50 minutes..but this past January in Houston's win, Scola was held to be pretty inefficient, only playing 26 minutes and under-achieving in those. Garnett needs to make sure that Scola, if he does play (he's a game-time decision), is held in check.
2) Three Is Not The Magic Number- In Boston's last 2 wins, the teams shot only 35% from the field, or worse. In the Celtic's last 3 losses, they shot 37% or better, with two of the teams breaking 40% from 3. Boston needs to close out on Houston's shooters, as Houston has six guys that are rotation players and capable 3pt threats. If Houston gets the open looks, they'll take them.