Wednesday, January 2
7:30 PM ET
TD BankNorth Garden
Fans across the nation are waiting for the Celtics to pass some tests before they come out and say they are the real deal. They unfortunately failed the first test of the season on December 19 with an 87-85 loss to the Detroit Pistons. Since then, the Celtics managed to beat both Chicago and Orlando at home, following up on those victories by sweeping their first western conference road trip of the season. On that trip, the Celtics played four games in five nights. The star of the trip was the same man we’ve seen dominate opposing defenses since 1998 – Paul Pierce. In Sacramento, he completely took Ron Artest out of his game. The next night in Seattle, he put up 26 points in the second half, finishing with 37 total. Two nights later, he scored all 24 of his points against Utah in the second half. In Los Angeles, playing in front of his family and friends, he torched the Lakers for 33 points and made consecutive key defensive stops to put the game out of reach by the end of the third quarter. Pierce was rewarded for his efforts, winning his second Eastern Conference Player of the Week award of the 2007-2008 season.
The C’s are finally back home after a much deserved two days off, and will face the Houston Rockets at the Garden in attempt to extend the winning streak to seven. This isn’t the Houston Rockets team that many thought would be among the top four or five teams in the western conference, however. New head coach Rick Adelman hasn’t started his year one campaign as well as he would have liked, as the team currently stands at 15-16 (10th in the west). To make their problems even worse, their star player – Tracy McGrady – is uncertain when he will return to the lineup. The seven-time NBA All-Star has sat out Houston’s last three games and is uncertain of his return. In a recent interview, he stated that he would likely not be available for action in Houston’s next two or three games, and reports have even suggested that "T-Mac" may no longer be happy in Houston.
Starting in place of McGrady is Bonzi Wells, who has struggled with the first unit. In his four starts this season, in which Houston has gone 2-2, Wells has scored 11.0 points per game on just 28.6% shooting.
With Portland winning 13 of their last 14 games and Utah potentially getting back on track with a home win this past Monday, Houston could really use a win to put themselves back in the top eight of the western conference. They’ll have their work cut out for them, as the 26-3 Boston Celtics will show no mercy. With a win tonight, the Celtics would hold a 27-3 record and have a .900 winning percentage. Most teams talk about how many games above or below .500 they are – here we are talking .900.
Let’s kick off the New Year with a bang.
C Yao Ming / Kendrick Perkins
PF Chuck Hayes / Kevin Garnett
SF Shane Battier / Paul Pierce
SG Bonzi Wells / Ray Allen
PG Rafer Alston / Rajon Rondo
Key Matchup: Shane Battier vs. Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce has been on an absolute tear as of late. The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week posted averages of 27.5 points, six rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game on Boston’s first western conference road trip – in which they went 4-0. Pierce also shot a whopping 14/23 (61%) from beyond the arc. Can Shane Battier, who is one of the most well respected defensive players in the league, slow "The Truth" down?
Celtics X-Factor: Kendrick Perkins
With Tracy McGrady out of the lineup, Yao is going to get a lot of opportunities offensively. Most of their sets are going to be run through him, as they should. Yao is very capable of going for 25 or 30 on any given night. Perk needs to make sure he doesn’t dominate him. Help defense from Garnett and Pollard is going to be key on Yao as well, but Perk really needs to step up defensively.
HOU – Tracy McGrady (left knee)
HOU – Steve Francis (tendonitis in quadriceps)
HOU – Kirk Snyder (personal reasons)
BOS – Rajon Rondo (sore left hamstring – day-to-day)
Celtics Keys to the Game
- Contain Yao
- Attack, Don’t Settle
- Pressure Their Point Guards
- Perimeter Defense – Bother Their Shooters
- Limit Turnovers