Friday, February 22
10:30 PM ET
TV: ESPN, CSN
US Airways Center
The Celtics have not gotten off on the right foot on their five-game Western Conference road trip, losing two shootouts in a row against Golden State and Denver. After a day’s rest, the Celtics will look to get back to their winning ways on the third game of the trip, but it will be no cakewalk. The green have had to face two running teams to kick off the trip, but tonight’s matchup is the mother of all up-tempo teams – the Phoenix Suns. This is a much different Phoenix Suns team than they saw last year, as they’ve subtracted key players Shawn Marion and Kurt Thomas and have replaced them with Grant Hill and "The Diesel," Shaquille O’Neal. Boston has had trouble containing O’Neal, but this time he’ll be on the floor with Amare Stoudemire as well. At first glance, it’s not morally wrong to say "yikes!"
This will be O’Neal’s second game as a member of the Phoenix Suns, which is just two days after the Suns lost an absolute shootout with the Lakers in Shaq’s debut. Boston has had two extremely high-scoring games in a row to begin this trip, but not quite as high as the 130-124 mind-blower from the Lakers-Suns game on Wednesday night. The loss was unfortunate for Phoenix, especially considering the fact that it was against the Kobe Bryant (41 points) and the Lakers, but Shaq was impressive. He put up 15 points, grabbed nine boards, dished three assists, blocked two shots, and was even the recipient of an alley-oop from his new backcourt partner Steve Nash. After the game, Shaq joked that he was in better shape than he even thought. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep this up.
Both teams will be hungry for a win, as the Celtics will try to avoid their first three-game losing streak, while Phoenix will try to win their first game with "The Big Aristotle" and inch themselves closer to the top of the Western Conference’s ridiculous seeding race. If you like star-power, you better make sure you stay up late for this one.
C Kendrick Perkins / Shaquille O’Neal
PF Kevin Garnett / Amare Stoudemire
SF Paul Pierce / Grant Hill
SG Ray Allen / Raja Bell
PG Rajon Rondo / Steve Nash
Key Matchup: Rajon Rondo vs. Steve Nash
Here’s yet another tough cover for Rondo. First it was Allen Iverson, then it was Baron Davis, and now it is Steve Nash, arguably the best point guard in the league. Rajon has been playing great ball, but he’ll be tested tonight. One of the biggest things Rondo needs to pay attention to tonight is all of the pick and rolls Steve Nash runs. Rondo has had some trouble defending pick and rolls in the past, and although he has improved drastically, defending it against the Phoenix Suns is a different ballgame. Hopefully, Rajon can put together a strong outing.
Celtics X-Factor: Kevin Garnett
Garnett looked a lot better on Wednesday than he did the night before, but he’s still not all the way there. Tonight, he will be tested greatly against the monstrous front line that they have assembled. It’s one tough enough trying to stop Amare Stoudemire or Shaquille O’Neal by their lonesome, but now they are together. If there’s one thing wish we could have come true tonight, it would be that Kevin Garnett’s defensive activity is through the roof. Go get ‘em, KG.
BOS – Brian Scalabrine (strained groin – out)
Celtics Keys to the Game
- Control the Tempo
- Get Back On Defense
- Knock Down Free Throws
- Close Out On Shooters
- Play Like Men Inside, Not Boys