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Best offense vs best defense as Celtics visit Warriors

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The Celtics look to sweep the Warriors as the league’s best defensive team takes on the best offensive team.

Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

After a win over the Clippers on Wednesday, the Celtics move on to the 3rd game of their 4 game road trip as they take on the Golden State Warriors. The top team in the East takes on the top team in the West. This is the 3rd game of a 3 game home stand for the Warriors before they head out on a 3 game road trip. This is the second and final meeting between these two teams in the regular season.

In spite of most people expecting the Cavaliers or the Raptors to come out of the East, it’s a very possible Finals preview. The Celtics are the only team with a winning record over the Warriors since the 2015-16 season. Over that span, the Celtics are 3-2 over the Warriors with 2 of those 3 wins at Oracle arena. The rest of the league was 31-176 over that same time.

The Celtics went 1-1 vs the Warriors last season with each team winning on the road. The Celtics are 6-4 over their last 10 games and are 1-1 so far on their current road trip. They are 13-4 against Western teams and 17-6 on the road. The Warriors are 8-2 in their last 10 games and have won their last 2 games. They are 18-3 against the East and 18-6 at home.

The Celtics started the road trip pretty much healthy but find themselves struggling with injuries 3 games into it. Gordon Hayward is with the Celtics on this trip and is making strides in his recovery but remains out with the ankle injury. Guerschon Yabusele is out with a sprained ankle. The Celtics will miss Marcus Smart as he is expected to miss the next 2 weeks with a cut on his hand from a picture frame at his hotel.

The good news for the Celtics is that after missing the last game for observation, Al Horford is expected to return for this game. The Warriors are pretty much healthy. Kevin Durant is listed with left foot soreness but is expected to play. Patrick McCaw is probable with a back injury. Jordan Bell is listed as day to day with an ankle injury.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Aron Baynes

Celtics Reserves
Marcus Morris
Shane Larkin
Abdel Nader
Semi Ojeleye
Daniel Theis
Terry Rozier

Injuries
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Guerschon Yabusele (ankle) out
Marcus Smart (hand) out
Al Horford (head) expected to play

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Warriors Starters

PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Draymond Green
C: Zaza Pachulia

Warriors Reserves
Omri Casspi
Andre Iguodala
Damian Jones
Shaun Livingston
Kevon Looney
Patrick McCaw
JaVale McGee
David West
Nick Young

Injuries
Jordan Bell (ankle) day to day
Patrick McCaw (back) probable
Kevin Durant (foot) probable

Two Way Players
Chris Boucher
Quinn Cook

Head Coach
Steve Kerr

Key Matchups

Kyrie Irving vs Stephen Curry
This is a preview of the starting point guards for next month’s All Star Game. Both players are very tough to stop and can put up a lot of points in a hurry. Kyrie will need to play defense as there is no hiding on anyone on the Warriors. All of them are a threat to score. Curry is averaging 27.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.65steals. He is shooting 49% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc.

Jayson Tatum vs Kevin Durant
The Celtics’ rookie will be tasked with trying to slow down former MVP Kevin Durant. Durant is averaging 26.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.07 blocks. He is shooting 51.1% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc. Tatum will have his work cut out for him and will need every bit of that maturity and defense that he has been showing so far this season.

Honorable Mention
Jaylen Brown vs Klay Thompson

The Celtics youngsters are going to be challenged in this game for certain, especially on the defensive end as they try to slow down the Warriors’ stars. Thompson is averaging 20.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. He is shooting 48.8% from the field and 45.7% from 3 point distance.

Keys to the Game
Defense - The Warriors can put up points quickly and in bunches. They are averaging a league leading 116.1 points per game. It will be important for the Celtics to bring their league leading defensive intensity into this game, especially to shut down the Warriors’ fast breaks as they can get up the floor very quickly and are averaging a league best 18.3 fast break points. The Celtics must especially guard the perimeter as the Warriors are very dangerous from beyond the arc, shooting 40% on 3 pointers as a team. The Celtics hope of winning this game is to play lock down defense. The Warriors aren’t terrible on defense with a defensive rating of 103.3, good for 6th in the league.

Rebound - The Celtics need to crash the boards to keep the Warriors from igniting their fast breaks. The Celtics also need to rebound to give themselves second chance points and limit the second chance points for the Warriors. This is one area that the Celtics have a slight advantage over the Warriors. The Celtics are 10th with 44.4 rebounds per game while the Warriors are 12th with 44.2 rebounds per game. The Celtics are 23-0 when they out rebound their opponents.

Take Care of the Ball - The Warriors can be very disruptive by getting into the passing lanes, averaging 8.1 steals per game. The Celtics need to stay focused and not give the Warriors any easy opportunities to steal the ball or to get out on the break. If the Celtics get sloppy with the ball, the Warriors will make them pay.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics need to come out focused and play hard from start to finish. The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team throughout the game. They must be aggressive on defense, on the boards, in chasing down loose balls, and in taking the ball to the hoop and not settling for jumpers. They will need energy and extra effort from every player on the team.

Play the Right Way - Over the 4 game losing streak, for some reason, the Celtics lapsed into hero ball with each player trying to do too much individually. They weren’t passing the ball and instead were dribbling too much and taking bad shots at the end of the shot clock. The Celtics got back to team ball against the Clippers and we saw them crashing the boards as a team and passing the ball to find the open man. They were also once again setting the pace and being aggressive on defense. We need to see more of that in this game.

X-Factors
Bench Play- Both of these teams are relatively deep. The Celtics bench is averaging 45.1 points and 23 rebounds per game. The Warriors bench is averaging 50.8 points and 25.5 rebounds per game. The Celtics starters aren’t as dominant as the Warriors’ starters and so the Celtics will need a strong game from their reserves. They will definitely miss Smart’s 10.1 points and 3.6 rebounds and the remaining players will need a next man up mentality to win this game.

On the Road - The Celtics are playing their 3rd straight game on the road and have to deal with a different time zone and a hostile arena and playing the reigning champions. The Celtics are the 3rd youngest team in the league and young players often struggle with focus on the road. Hopefully they can dig down deep and block out all the distractions of the road and play well enough to get a win.