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Preview: Celtics (21-14) at Spurs (20-17) Game #36

The Celtics close out their 3 game road trip against the San Antonio Spurs.

NBA: Boston Celtics at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics close out their three game Western road trip with a game against the San Antonio Spurs before returning to the Garden for a 4 game home stand. These teams split the series last season with the Celtics losing by 3 in San Antonio and the Celtics winning by 14 in Boston for their first win over the Spurs since 2011. This is the first of 2 games between these teams this season. They will meet again on March 24th in Boston.

The Celtics remain in 5th place in the East, 4 games behind first place Toronto and 1.5 games behind 4th place Philadelphia. They are 6-7 vs Western Conference teams and 10-9 on the road. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games. Both teams are looking for their second straignt win. The Spurs are the only team in the league that the Celtics have not yet been able to beat on the road in Brad Stevens’ tenure.

The Spurs are 9th in the West and just outside playoff contention. They are 4.5 games behind first place Denver and they are tied with 8th place Sacramento, with the Kings holding the tie breaker. They are 4-5 against Eastern Conference foes and 14-5 at home. They have won 9 of their last 12 games.

The Celtics will once again be without Aron Baynes (hand), Robert Williams (groin) and Jabari Bird (personal). Pau Gasol was active for the Spurs game on Saturday but did not play. He is listed as day to day and is probable for this game. Dejounte Murray had surgery last Friday to repair a torn ACL and is out. Rudy Gay is a game time decision with a sore wrist. Metu and Walker are on G-League assignment.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Marcus Morris
C: Al Horford

Celtics Reserves
Semi Ojeleye
Terry Rozier
Daniel Theis
Brad Wanamaker
Guerschon Yabusele
Gordon Hayward
Jaylen Brown

Injuries
Jabari Bird (personal) out
Aron Baynes (hand) out
Robert Williams (groin) out

Two Way Players
PJ Dozier

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Spurs Starters

PG: Derrick White
SG: Bryn Forbes
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: Rudy Gay
C: LaMarcus Aldridge

Spurs Reserves
Marco Belinelli
Davis Bertrans
Dante Cunningham
Chimezie Metu
Patty Mills
Jakob Poeltl
Quincy Pondexter
Lonnie Walker IV

Injuries
Pau Gasol (foot) probable
DeJounte Murray (knee) out
Rudy Gay (wrist) game time decision
Chimezie Metu (G League)
Lonnie Walker (G League)

2-Way Players
Drew Eubanks
Ben Moore

Head Coach
Gregg Popovich

Key Matchups

Jayson Tatum vs DeMar DeRozan
Jayson Tatum played very well on both ends of the floor against the Grizzlies. He will need to continue that trend as he is tasked with guarding the Spurs top scorer. DeRozan is averaging 23.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.2 assissts and 1.0 steals. He is struggling from beyond the arc, shooting just 14% on 3 pointers. Tatum needs to keep him away from the basket where he is much more accurate.

Al Horford vs LaMarcus
Aldridge Aldridge is having a very good season so far, averaging 19.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.14 blocks. Al Horford has been playing very well also and will need to be ready to stay with Aldridge both inside and out to try to slow him down.

Honorable Mention
Marcus Morris vs Rudy Gay
Marcus Morris has been the Celtics most consistent player this season. He will be matched up with Rudy Gay, who is averaging 13.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He is shooting 51% from the field and 41.3% from beyond the arc. Marcus will need to play tough defense to keep him from having a big game.

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. The Celtics are averaging 45.5 rebounds per game while the Spurs are averaging 44.6 rebounds per game. Rebounding takes effort and when they put forth the extra effort on the boards, that tends to spread to other areas of the game as well.

Defense - Defense wins games and so the Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority. The Celtics have slipped to 4th with a defensive rating of 104.3 while the Spurs are 19th with a defensive rating of 109.6 Since they are very close on offense with the Celtics scoring 111.7 points per game and the Spurs averaging 111.2, defense will likely decide the winner of this game.

Move the Ball - When the Celtics move the ball they 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 and make the extra pass to find the best shot. They have to play the right way!

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. The difference between the 17 point deficit in the first half against the Grizzlies and the 9 point win at the end of the game was the aggressiveness of the Celtics. They have to be the team that works harder and wants it more.

X-Factors
Road Game - The Celtics are playing in the final game of a 3 game road trip. 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. Will master or pupil come out on top?

Fatigue and New Year’s Eve - The Celtics are finishing up a 3 game road trip and are getting road weary by now. On the other hand, the Spurs are playing in the 3rd game in 4 nights and should be experiencing some fatigue themselves. They are playing on New Year’s Eve and may have their thoughts on an after game celebration. The Celtics have to dig deep and play hard and not lose focus on finishing this trip out strong.