7:00 PM ET
TV: ESPN, CSN
TD BankNorth Garden
Settle down, don’t panic; breathe a little. The sky is not falling. Every great team hits a couple bumps at some point. Sure, losing a pair of games due to boneheaded and lackluster fourth-quarter play is troubling, but let’s not go overboard here. Celtics fans across the web are acting as if it is 2013 and the team hasn’t won a thing, has a financial situation similar to the Knicks, and has gotten four first round draft picks taken away from them. Relax, folks. Sam Cassell isn’t terrible, Al Jefferson is not better than Kevin Garnett, and this team is still on top of the league with 55 wins and counting. Number 17 is still a realistic goal within the next three months. Think big, not negative.
After two straight fourth-quarter meltdowns, the Celtics don’t exactly have a peachy matchup to redeem themselves to, however. Tonight, the C’s will host the new-look Phoenix Suns, who are finally beginning to click, on the national stage (ESPN). Phoenix had trouble winning games for a while after the Shaquille O’Neal trade went through, but it looks as though they’ve finally found their niche. Winners in seven of their last eight outings, Mike D’Antoni’s crew is beginning to look like the contender they may very well be this spring.
One of the biggest reasons for Phoenix’s success is Amare Stoudemire, who Shaq insisted he would make a better player. Whether the big fella’ has anything to do with it or not, Stoudemire is currently playing the best basketball of his young career. Since February 1, the 25-year-old stud has held averages of 28.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. O’Neal was recently quoted saying that Stoudemire was the best big man in the NBA, "bar none." Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett supporters may beg to differ, but there’s no question in anyone’s mind that he’s in the conversation from an offensive standpoint.
Phoenix handled Boston with an 85-77 home victory in last month’s testy matchup, despite one of the best defensive outings of the season from the C’s. Let’s hope the C’s can match that defensive performance tonight and give Phoenix a taste of what they can do offensively, as well.
C Shaquille O’Neal / Kendrick Perkins
PF Amare Stoudemire / Kevin Garnett
SF Grant Hill / Paul Pierce
SG Raja Bell / Ray Allen
PG Steve Nash / Rajon Rondo
Key Matchup: Amare Stoudemire vs. Kevin Garnett
After what happened between these two back in February’s matchup in Phoenix, it’s impossible to go with any other matchup. Garnett and Stoudemire were as "chippy" as can be, and they were able to get away with more physical incidents than any other big man in the NBA has this season. In addition to the personal duel these two have built up, they’re also two of the most talented bigs in the entire league. Expect another dogfight between the two All-Star forwards.
Celtics X-Factor: Intensity & 48-Minute Energy
The Celtics have lost two tough games in a row, and both of which were thrown away in the fourth quarter due to careless and inexcusable sloppiness. The Celtics need to come into tonight’s game with an extra dose of fire ignited in their chests. Tonight is the night we need to see Kevin Garnett flex and scream to the point where veins are popping out of every section of his body. This game is about redemption and payback to the Phoenix Suns for taking them out less than a month ago. Don’t let Phoenix, or any other team watching, believe that they can beat the Celtics. This game means more than a bump in the loss column, even if the Celtics have already secured 55 victories and have virtually locked in for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s about the psyche of the opposition. Let’s go green, make them fear you (even if Shaq is too stubborn to admit it).
BOS – Scot Pollard (torn tendon in left ankle – out for season)
Celtics Keys to the Game
- 48-Minute Intensity
- Ball Control
- Control the Glass
- Bench Production