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2008 Champs Take on the 2007 Champs in San Antonio

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Celtics Twitter Updates:

Doc says KG will start tonight and play "5-7 minutes in the 1st and 3rd quarters" like a preseason game.

J.R. Giddens has been reassigned to the Utah Flash of the D-League.

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Boston Celtics (51-18) at San Antonio Spurs (45-22)
Friday, March 20
8:30 PM ET
Game #70, Road Game #36
TV: NBA TV, FSN SW, CSN HD
AT&T Center

Game Thread l Chat

This is the second and final regular season meeting between these two teams. Last season the Celtics swept the Spurs for the first time since the 1988-89 season. The Spurs beat the Celtics 105-99 earlier this season and that was with Ray and KG both in the lineup and only Scal out with an injury. With the Celtics depleted and rusty lineup, this could be a tough one.

The Celtics are clinging to 2nd place in the east with a mere 1/2 game lead on Orlando who are idle on Friday. The Spurs have a slightly firmer hold on 2nd place in the West, 8 games behind the Lakers and 1.5 games ahead of the Rockets who are once again playing without McGrady.

Until March 17, 2007, the Celtics had an 18 game losing streak against the Spurs. Until that Celtic victory, Paul Pierce had never beaten the Spurs and Tim Duncan had never lost to the Celtics. The Spurs hold a 39-34 edge in all time wins between the two teams and the Spurs hold a 19-17 edge on their home court.

Reports out of San Antonio are that KG and Ray both spent time doing drills before this morning's shoot around and also participated in the shoot around. Both are listed as game time decisions but Cedric Maxwell has said that he expects KG to be in the starting lineup tonight. On the other side, this morning's San Antonio papers report that Manu Ginobili practiced but isn't expected to play tonight. Tim Duncan, who sat out the Spurs' last game is expected to play.



Coach: Doc Rivers
Average Age: 26.6
Average Height: 6-6
Average Weight: 222


Probable Starters
Ray Allen
Rajon Rondo/Ray Allen/Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Kendrick Perkins

While Ray and KG are both game time decisions, I am going to be optimistic and list them both in the starting lineup. If Ray can't go, expect Stephon Marbury to get the start in his place again and if KG can't play, Big Baby should once again fill in at PF.
njuries:
Brian Scalabrine (Concussion) out
Tony Allen (thumb) out
Leon Powe (knee) out
Kevin Garnett (game time decision)
Ray Allen (game time decision)



Coach: Gregg Popovich
Average Age: 29.6
Average Height: 6-6
Average Weight: 217


Probable Starters

Tony Parker/Roger Mason/Michael Finley/Tim Duncan/Matt Bonner

The Spurs have their starting lineup in place and healthy for the stretch run. They are looking toward the playoffs as Tim Duncan sat out their win over the Wolves on Tuesday with an eye toward resting him for the playoffs by sitting him in the second of back to back games.

Injuries
Ian Mahinmi (Ankle) out
Manu Ginobili (fibula) doubtful

Key Matchups
vs
Rajon Rondo vs Tony Parker
Rondo has been compared to Parker by several writers but Parker has much more experience to draw on than Rondo does at this point in their careers. Still, when Rondo is aggressive and focused, he can pretty much take on any point guard in the league, including Parker. Rondo got the slight edge on Parker in their first matchup with 6 points, 16 assists and 5 rebound to 7 points 7 assists and 5 rebounds for Parker. The Spurs however, got the win.

vs
Kevin Garnett vs Tim Duncan
This is a matchup of the two best power forwards in the league. Duncan sat out the Spurs last game with an eye toward resting up for the playoffs. Doc has waffled on his statement that KG will play in this one but I have to feel that if he is cleared by the medical staff and accompanies the team on the trip, he will talk his way into this game. We should expect some rust, though KG played Duncan fairly even in their first matchup, Duncan may have it much easier in this one.

Honorable Mention
Kendrick Perkins vs Matt Bonner
Bonner torched the Celtics for 23 points, most from the outside in their first meeting. Perk will have to figure out how to stop him from once again taking over from the perimeter.


TeamConnections

Doc Rivers played for the Spurs from '94-96
Kurt Thomas and Eddie House were teammates on the Suns
Jacques Vaughn and Brian Scalabrine were teammates in New Jersey
Jacques Vaughn played for Doc in Orlando
Tim Duncan was the prize in the 1997 draft and the Celtics had the best chance of landing him but ended up with the 3rd and 6th picks instead.

Keys to the Game
Defense The Celtics defense has been slipping considerably as of late. The Spurs are a tough team with good outside shooters (They shoot 40% from beyond the arc which is first in the league). They are also tough inside with Parker who can drive to the hoop and Duncan who is very tough to stop in the paint. The Celtics must find their defensive intensity or this could be an ugly game.
Ball Movement - The Celtics have let their offense get stagnant at times and let the ball stop moving. At times players have tried to do it themselves, taking quick shots, rather than playing the team game that makes them so tough to stop. They will need to move the ball and find the open man. They also need to get the ball up the court quickly instead of walking it up because if they let the Spurs defense get set, they will find it difficult to get past it.
Rebound The Celtics need to be aggressive on the boards to prevent second chance points by the Spurs. They also need to work the offensive boards so as not to be one shot and done.
Sense of Urgency This game is much more crucial for the Celtics to win than it is for the Spurs. Let's hope the Celts come out with a sense of urgency and play hard from start to finish. They can't afford haphazard efforts like they have submitted against their opponents recently. If the Celtics come out with a sense of urgency from the beginning and play hard, they have a chance in this one, even with all the injuries.

X-Factor
Injuries and Rust
The Celtics have been decimated by injuries of late and they still have key players out of the lineup. Even if KG returns, he will be rusty and won't be the same as he was before the inury in his first game back. Against a top team like the Spurs close to full strength, the injuries may just be too much to overcome.

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CelticBalla32 also checked in with a recap today, his comments below.

There is a lot going on in the basketball world right now, highlighted by "March Madness," the NCAA's 2009 tournament. The buzz around your place of business and/or amongst your group of friends is centered around bracket selections, upsets, sleepers, pool standings, etc. It's a great time.

All bracket busters aside, the Celtics still have 13 regular season games to play before shifting their focus towards playoff basketball. Tonight, the men in green will be hosted by the San Antonio Spurs, who hold the NBA's fourth-best record at 45-22. This is a tough game against a tough team, in a tough building to win it.

However, the Celtics may be getting a much-needed boost for tonight's showdown, as Kevin Garnett may give it a go for the first time since February 19 due to a knee strain. Throughout that stint, the struggling C's settled for an underwhelming 7-6 record. Ray Allen, who sat out of Wednesday night's overtime victory vs. Miami with a hyperextended right elbow, is also listed as a gametime decision.

San Antonio's "big three" has fought the injury bug of late, as well. Manu Ginobili remains sidelined with a stress reaction in his right ankle, while Gregg Popovich is sitting Tim Duncan on the second night of some back-to-backs as he battles knee soreness. Even Tony Parker missed nine consecutive games in November.

Hobbled or not, these clubs are two of the scariest that the league has to offer, and are both hungry for late-season victories in order to secure the two-seed in their respective conferences.