Wednesday, March 5
7:30 PM ET
TD BankNorth Garden
Clear your schedule, call some friends, and get your popcorn ready. Tonight’s matchup against the Detroit Pistons may not be a playoff game, but it is undoubtedly the biggest game of the regular season for both clubs. The Celtics currently hold a three-game advantage over Detroit for the first seed in the Eastern Conference, and the season series is knotted at one apiece up to this point. Both squads have taken each other out on the road, and this will be the last meeting between the top two Eastern Conference teams before a potential postseason matchup. Should a tiebreaker occur, this game would be the deciding factor as to who would be awarded with the number one seed and homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
Both clubs will certainly be striving for homecourt advantage, but that is not the only reason this game expected to be as intense as can be. As previously mentioned, the season series between the Celtics and Pistons is halted at a 1-1 tie, and you better believe both franchises want to get a hold of Eastern Conference seniority. Boston wants to tell Detroit that they are the new kids on the block and are for real, while Detroit is looking to tell the green that they are still on top of the conference.
Both teams have bolstered their chances of making a title run this past week. Detroit added to their already-deep bench by inking former Celtic center Theo Ratliff to help solidify their frontcourt rotation, while Boston signed P.J. Brown for that exact reason. Yesterday, however, was the big addition that everybody in New England had been anticipating. Sam Cassell is now an official member of the Boston Celtics, and will give the C’s a big lift in the playoffs, down the stretch of games, and as a mentor to Rajon Rondo. Cassell, a two-time NBA champion with the Houston Rockets, is also right up there with Chauncey Billups as one of the league’s top post-up point guards. Unfortunately, "Sam I Am" will not be available for tonight’s game and will not be with the team tomorrow, as he flew back home to Baltimore to attend to a death in the family, but he will be welcomed with open arms when he does join the green at the end of the week. P.J. Brown, however, may suit up for the first time tonight.
Let the duel for Eastern Conference bragging rights begin!
C Rasheed Wallace / Kendrick Perkins
PF Antonio McDyess / Kevin Garnett
SF Tayshaun Prince / Paul Pierce
SG Rip Hamilton / Ray Allen
PG Chauncey Billups / Rajon Rondo
Key Matchup: Chauncey Billups vs. Rajon Rondo
In the first half of the first Boston-Detroit meeting this season, back on December 19, it seemed as though Chauncey Billups didn’t know what to expect of Rajon Rondo. The second-year guard had his way with Billups in the first half by attacking the rim at will, finishing around the basket, and knocking down an open jumper or two. The second half, however, was the completely different story. Rondo was relatively quiet offensively and Billups simply had his way with him in the post. The result? A monster second half by the All-Star point guard and a two-point Pistons victory. In Detroit for the second meeting, roughly two weeks later, Rondo was held to just three points on 1-7 shooting.
With that said, Rondo is certainly a better basketball player than he was back in late December and early January. The promising 22-year-old held averages of 13.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 6.5 assists while shooting over 51% from the field throughout the month of February, and seems to get better each time he takes the floor. Billups has recognized his progression, as he made several complimentary comments about Rondo throughout All-Star weekend. The scary thing is that Rondo has gotten even better since those comments were made.
Expect an excellent matchup between these two guards.
Celtics X-Factor: Rajon Rondo
Once again, Rondo cannot let Chauncey Billups take advantage of him tonight. He did in the second half on December 19, and that cost the C’s the game. Saying "stop Billups in the post" is far easier said than done, but there is no question about the fact that Rondo must put together a better defensive effort tonight. In addition, he needs to attack opportunistically and knock down the open jumpers the defense gives him… and they will give them to him.
Celtics Keys to the Game
- Timely Defensive Rotations
- Heart, Hustle, & Muscle
- Limit Turnovers
- Show Detroit Who the Beast of the East Is