Friday, March 14
7:30 PM ET
TD BankNorth Garden
The streaking Celtics are back in action tonight at the Garden, where they’ll take on one of the top dogs in the Western Conference: the Utah Jazz. They may not be on a 10-game winning streak like the C’s, but they’ve won 25 of their last 31 and currently stand at 43-23. This will be their second and final regular season meeting with Boston, and they’ll be looking for a little payback. In the first meeting, back on December 29, the C’s beat Utah by six on their home floor, despite a 54.8% shooting display from Jerry Sloan’s crew. Andrei Kirilenko, who once cried in the locker room at the fact that he couldn’t contain Paul Pierce, unfortunately was not in uniform for that game.
Utah will get a fair shot tonight, as both rosters are healthy, sans Boston’s Scot Pollard. The Jazz have even brought in a new face since our last encounter, bringing in one of the league’s top sharpshooters in Kyle Korver. Since the deal, the Jazz have held a 27-7 record and have spaced the floor beautifully. Korver hasn’t been doing it alone as of late, though. After a rocky start to the season, seven-footer Mehmet Okur has been playing some of the best basketball of his career over the past couple of weeks. Since the All-Star break, the 2007 NBA All-Star has averaged over 18 points and nearly 11 rebounds per game, but those numbers don’t compare to what he has been posting in the young month of March. Through seven games this month, Okur has put up 20.7 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, while shooting at a 53.9% clip from the field and hitting half of his long-range attempts. Add Deron Williams and a healthy Matt Harpring to that mix, you’ve yourself a dangerous perimeter team when they’re hot.
Utah’s record is excellent, as they have 20 more wins than losses, but their biggest problem is closing out games on the road. Utah is just 15-20 on the road this season, and they are going up against one of the best home teams in the NBA tonight. The Celtics are nearly just as good as Utah’s 28-3 record in their own building, as the green have won 29 of their 33 games at the TD BankNorth Garden and currently hold the best home record in the Eastern Conference.
Home is a place where the Celtics won’t be for over a week’s time after tonight. They’ll fly out to Milwaukee after tonight’s game and take on the Bucks tomorrow night before heading southwest for their toughest trip of the year. They’ll make their rounds through the state of Texas with visits to San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas before wrapping up the four-game trip in the "Big Easy" against Chris Paul and the Hornets. The following wee, they’ll be at home but will host Phoenix and New Orleans. The next couple of weeks will be far from a cake-walk for the green, but fun to watch and a good test, nevertheless.
It should be a good one tonight, folks. Be sure to tune in. It will be more of a challenge than Wednesday night’s homicidal victory over Seattle. I promise.
C Mehmet Okur / Kendrick Perkins
PF Carlos Boozer / Kevin Garnett
SF Andrei Kirilenko / Paul Pierce
SG Ronnie Brewer / Ray Allen
PG Deron Williams / Rajon Rondo
Key Matchup: Deron Williams vs. Rajon Rondo
The Boozer/Garnett matchup was a close second, but you can never go wrong with Rajon Rondo vs. a premier point guard. Deron Williams is one of the toughest guards to deal with in today’s game. He’s got the size and bulk to bull his way through smaller guards, he’s got the quickness to get free, he’s a great finisher, and he can step out to three-point territory to keep the defense honest with that pretty stroke of his. With all that said, neither of those qualities are his best individual asset. His best trait is his combination of court vision and timing. In transition, he’s one of the best decision makers and executors the NBA has seen since John Stockton. In the halfcourt, he doesn’t break down like many young point guards do. He gets his teams into sets beautifully and never panics. He’s a unique talent, and when he has the ball in his hands, you’d better watch out.
Rajon Rondo is no slouch, either, as we very well know. Williams may have big advantages on him in the size and strength department, but Rondo’s quickness and anticipation skills cannot be overpowered. Our second-year stud has the ability to contain bigger guards, as he has shown us in the past with Baron Davis and Gilbert Arenas. He has the ability to do a lot of things, but it’s up to him to find a degree of consistency before he is mentioned in the same paragraph as some of the players he’s defending. He can get there; tonight’s game should be a great individual test for Rajon.
Celtics X-Factor: Defensive Rotations
The X-Factor section is dedicated to a single player more often than not, but implementing an on-point defense with crisp rotations is an absolute must against the Utah Jazz. Their ball movement is second to none, and they are so deep that they usually have four or five guys on the floor that can hurt you offensively at all times. They’re a tough cover, and they’re only getting better. This team has attackers, post players, shooters, energy guys, and one of the best point guards/playmakers in the NBA in Deron Williams. The C’s took them out in Utah back in late December, but they are an improved team with a better mindset at this stage of the season. If Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes aren’t near-perfect, the Celtics are going to have a lot of trouble defending this team.
BOS – Scot Pollard (torn tendon in left ankle – out for season)
Celtics Keys to the Game
- Rebound, Control Utah’s Offensive Glass
- Limit Turnovers
- Defensive Rotations