Coming off a 4-1 homestand, the Celtics head out for a 3 game road trip. They begin with a stop in San Antonio to take on the Spurs, who begin a 3 game homestand of their own. The Celtics beat the Spurs 108-94 in Boston on October 30. This was their first win against the Spurs since 2011. The Spurs have a 5 game win streak vs the Celtics in San Antonio that goes back to 2011.
The Celtics have won their last 4 games and are 10-2 on the road. The Spurs have won their last two games and are 12-2 at home. Both teams are 8-2 in their last 10 games. The Spurs, who are the 3rd seed in the West, are 9-4 vs Eastern Conference teams. The Celtics, who are the top seed in the league are 8-0 vs the West, including the earlier win over the Spurs.
The Spurs All Star, Kawhi Leonard has not played as yet this season and is expected to miss this game as well. However, he is expected to make his season debut on Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns. Tony Parker also missed the first game between these two teams but he returned to action on November 26. I've listed the starting lineup from the Spurs game notes.
Jaylen Brown (eye) and Marcus Morris (knee) missed Wednesday's game vs the Mavericks. Both players traveled with the team to San Antonio and at this time, both are listed as questionable for this game. However, Jaylen Brown posted to his Instagram a video showing the goggles he plans to wear in tonight's game so I would guess that upgrades him to probable. Marcus Morris has also said he plans to play. Gordon Hayward is out with the season ending ankle injury he suffered in the first game of the season.
Jayson Tatum was excused from flying with the team for personal reasons, but he flew there on his own and is expected to play. I've listed the same starting lineup for the Celtics as they started against the Mavericks with Brown at the two in place of Smart as it appears that he expects to play. Since the starting center is always a question mark until just before the game, if Marcus Morris can play, he may or may not move into the starting power forward spot with Horford moving to center.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Aron Baynes
Marcus Morris (knee) probable
Jaylen Brown (eye) probable (with glasses)
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Two Way Players
Probable Spurs Starters
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Pau Gasol
Kawhi Leonard (quad) out
Kyle Anderson (MCL) out
Al Horford vs LaMarcus Aldridge
Aldridge is having a very good season so far, averaging 22.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.17 blocks. Al Horford has been playing very well also, especially on defense. He will need to be ready to stay with Aldridge both inside and out to try to slow him down. Aldridge was held to 11 points and 5 rebounds in the Spurs earlier game against the Celtics.
Jayson Tatum vs Rudy Gay
Jayson Tatum catches a break in that the Spurs' superstar, Kawhi Leonard, is still out with a quad injury and is not expected to return until the next night. The Celtics rookie will instead be matched up with veteran forward Rudy Gay. Gay is averaging 12.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.04 steals. He is also shooting 46.9% from the field and 31.4% from beyond the arc. Gay finished the first game against the Celtics with 14 points and 3 rebounds off the bench.
Aron Baynes vs Pau Gasol
Gasol has lost a step or two from his prime, but he can still be dangerous. He is averaging 11.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.3 blocks. Gasol had 11 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in their first meeting this season.
Keys to the Game
Rebound - The Celtics can't score if they don't have the ball, and they will struggle if they give up second chance points to the Spurs, who average 14 second chance points per game (7th). The Celtics are averaging 45.3 rebounds per game while the Spurs are averaging 44.3 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 1st with a defensive rating of 98.8 while the Spurs are 5th with a defensive rating of 100.5. Defense wins games and so the Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority. They can't afford to slack off on defense against a good team like the Spurs.
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.
Road Game - The Celtics are playing on the road after being at home for an extended period of time. The AT&T Center is a very tough place to play. The Celtics have to block out all distractions and focus on playing their game. The Celtics, especially the young players, have to dig deep down and keep their focus.
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. Stevens won the first matchup, can he do it twice?