The Celtics return home from their 2 game road trip to host the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are on the 4th and final game of a 4 game road trip. The Spurs won the series 2-0 last season and have won the last 11 games between them. The Celtics last beat the Spurs on March 31, 2011. They started the season out 4-0 and then went 1-2 so far on the road trip. The Celtics started the season by losing their first two games and since have won 4 straight.
The Celtics had hoped to get Marcus Morris back for this game but Brad Stevens wanted him to have a full practice in before playing. Morris was assigned to the Red Claws today for practice but was recalled after practice was finished. Technically, he could play in this game or they could wait until Wednesday against the Kings or Friday at the Thunder. Jabari Bird was assigned to the Red Claws also.
The Spurs are missing some key players also. Kawhi Leonard (quad) is out indefinitely. Tony Parker (quad) is expected to spend some time in the G-League on a rehab assignment before returning to the team. Joffrey Lauvergne (ankle) is listed as day to day.
Three of the 5 starters for the Spurs are returning from last season. They returned everyone from last year's team except 3 players who weren't part of the core. Murray and Anderson replace the injured Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard in the starting lineup. One key addition is Rudy Gay. The Celtics return just one starter and just 4 players from last season. Both teams are very well coached.
The Celtics had Sunday off after returning from their two game road trip to Milwaukee and Miami. The Spurs played at the Pacers on Sunday where they lost a close one 97-94. They will return home after this game to host the Warriors on Thursday. The Celtics will host the Kings on Wednesday.
With Hayward out, Brad Stevens has been mixing and matching with his starting lineup depending on the matchups on each opponent. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford have been the constants in the starting lineup. He has started Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, and Aron Baynes all with some success. I'm listing the same starters as last game but that could easily change.
Marcus Morris (knee) day to day
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Two Way Players
Joffrey Lauverngne (ankle) out
Kawhi Leonard (quad) out
Tony Parker (quad) out
Al Horford vs LaMarcus Aldridge
Aldridge is having a very good season so far, averaging 25.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 blocks. Al Horford has been playing very well also, especially on defense. He slowed Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis, holding both below their season averages. He will try to do the same with Aldridge, who played a team high 36 minutes against the Pacers on Sunday.
Jayson Tatum vs Kyle Anderson
Jayson Tatum catches a break in that the Spurs' superstar, Kawhi Leonard, is still out with a quad injury. The Celtics rookie will instead be matched up with the Spurs 4th year player Kyle Anderson. Anderson is averaging 8.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists. He is also shooting 50% from beyond the arc.
Aron Baynes vs Pau Gasol
Gasol has lost a step or two from his prime, but he can still be dangerous. He is averaging 8.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.4 blocks. He finished with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists in 30 minutes on Sunday.
Keys to the Game
Rebound - The Celtics can't score if they don't have the ball, and they will struggle when constantly giving up second chance points. The Celtics are averaging 45.2 rebounds per game while the Spurs are averaging 49.0 rebounds per game. The Celtics need to continue to work extra hard on the boards. When they put forth the extra effort on the boards, that tends to spread to other areas of the game as well.
Defense - Both teams have been good defensively. The Celtics are 2nd with a defensive rating of 95.1 while the Spurs are 6th with a defensive rating of 98.9. Defense wins games and so the Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority.
Move the Ball - When the Celtics move the ball they get good shots and play very well. When the ball stops moving, the Celtics struggle to score and the rest of their game slows down as well. They need to keep moving the ball especially against a good defensive team like the Spurs.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics need to play hard and be the more aggressive team. They have to go after rebounds, loose balls, and 50/50 balls. They have to be aggressive on defense and in getting to the basket. They have to be the team that works harder and wants it more.
Home Game - The Celtics are once again at home where they should get a boost from the home crowd and from the familiarity of their home court. Also, the Spurs have been struggling somewhat on the road, losing 2 of 3 games so far on their road trip. The Celtics need to capitalize on their home court and use it to their advantage.
Back to Back - The Spurs are playing on the second night of back to back games on the road, having lost a close game on Sunday night against the Pacers. Fatigue could be a problem for them, especially veteran players like Aldridge and Gasol who played big minutes against the Pacers.
Coaching - Gregg Popovich is considered by many to be the best coach in the league. Brad Stevens is considered to be the best young coach in the league and the heir apparent to Popovich's crown. Matchups and coaching strategy should come into play in this game.