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Boston Celtics back (to back) on the court as they visit the Phoenix Suns

Celtics look to go 3-0 on the road trip as they visit the Phoenix Suns.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics play the third game of their 4 game road trip as they take on the Phoenix Suns. The Celtics beat the Suns in Boston 116-111 on December 2. Greg Monroe had 6 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists for the Suns in 19 minutes in that game. He has since been released by the Suns and signed with the Celtics.

There are a couple of side stories that are interesting between these two teams. First, Marcus Morris spent 3 seasons with the Suns and has not so pleasant memories of his first team. He has said it was like a slap in the face when they traded him to Detroit separating him from his twin brother for the first time in their basketball lives. He is less than complimentary to the Suns whenever asked about them. I can imagine that the team would very much like to get a win for him whether he plays or not.

Then there is the case of Devin Booker. When these two teams played at the Garden last season, Booker scored 70 points. That game was just one year and 2 days ago. Only 4 players are left that remember that game but I’m sure they have filled the rest of the team in about it. The Celtics won that game handily 130-120 and led by double digits for most of the game.

In the final minutes of that game, Suns coach Earl Watson turned to gimmicks to get Booker more points with intentional fouls and timeouts in a game that was not on the line. He was criticized for it, especially by the Celtics who didn’t like it and didn’t care for the raucous postgame locker room celebration.

When they played in Phoenix later last season, the Suns pulled out a 109-106 win on a Tyler Ulis buzzer beater. In the first game this season, Booker put up 38 points. I’m sure the Celtics will want to prevent any more heroics for either player and hopefully they will come out and play hard from tip to final buzzer to prevent it.

Then, there is the history between these two teams. Game 5 of the 1976 Finals between the Suns and the Celtics was a triple-overtime game that is sometimes referred to as “the greatest game ever played.” With the series tied 2-2, Boston took a huge lead at Boston Garden but could not hold it. Both coaches called times out they didn’t have.

At the end of the second overtime, it appeared the Celtics won on a buzzer beater and the Celtics went to their locker room and fans stormed the court. However there were 2 seconds left on the clock and in the ensuing 2 seconds the Suns were able to force a third overtime before the Celtics finally won the game.

The Celtics are playing in the second of back to back games, having won 104-93 Sacramento on Sunday and having to travel to Phoenix after the game. The Celtics are 7-4 overall on the second night of back to back games. They are 3-1 when both games are on the road. The Suns last played on Saturday when they lost to the Magic in Orlando.

The Celtics have won their last 3 games and are 6-4 in their last 10. They are 20-8 vs Western Conference teams and 26-10 on the road. The Suns have lost 11 straight games and are 0-10 in their last 10 games. They are 6-23 vs Eastern Conference teams and a league worst 9-27 at home. They have the worst record in the league and are half a game behind the Grizzlies in the West.

The Celtics are still 2nd in the East and are now 3.5 games behind the first place Raptors who lost to the LA Clippers on Sunday. The Celtics are also 6 games ahead of the 3rd place Cavaliers. Denver plays at Toronto and Cavaliers play at Miami on Tuesday. Both are off on Monday.

The Celtics remain short handed with Smart (thumb), Theis (knee), Irving (knee) and Gordon Hayward (ankle) out for this game. Brad Stevens hinted that Marcus Morris may be back as soon as this game and he will likely be a game time decision.

For the Suns, Tyson Chandler (neck) and Brandon Knight (knee) are out. TJ Warren is questionable with a knee injury and Devin Booker is listed as very questionable to play in this game after missing 4 games with a hand injury. However, he has said that he is hopeful to play. If Booker can’t play, Troy Daniels is expected to start in his place. Alan Williams is expected back after missing 6 months with a knee injury.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Shane Larkin
Abdel Nader
Semi Ojeleye
Guerschon Yabusele
Greg Monroe
Jabari Bird
Kadeem Allen

Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Marcus Smart (thumb) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Marcus Morris (ankle) questionable

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Suns Reserves
Troy Daniels
Jared Dudley
Shaquille Harrison
Danuel House
Alex Len
Alec Peters
Davon Reed
Tyler Ulis
Alan Williams

Devin Booker (hand) hopeful
Brandon Knight (knee) out
TJ Warren (knee) day to day
Tyson Chandler (neck) out

Two Way Players
Alec Peters

Head Coach
Jay Triano

Key Matchups

Jaylen Brown vs Devin Booker
Booker is the Suns best player and a handful to defend. As stated above, he scored 70 points vs the Celtics last year at the Garden and scored 38 points in their first meeting this season. He is averaging 24.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game and is shooting 38.3% from beyond the arc. Booker has missed the last 4 games with a hand injury and is listed as questionable and if he can’t play, Troy Daniels should get the start. Daniels is averaging 12.7 points and 3.1 3-point FG in 9 starts this season.

Jayson Tatum vs Josh Jackson
There were a lot of rumors about Jackson around draft time when the Celtics reportedly wanted him in for a workout and he reportedly didn’t return their calls to schedule one. I’m pretty sure that even if he did come in for a workout that Tatum would have been the Celtics pick, even at #1. Jackson is averaging 12.2 points, 4.5 rebounds per game for the year and since New Years, he is averaging 16 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Jayson needs to show that the Celtics picked the right rookie.

Honorable Mention
Shane Larkin vs Tyler Ulis
This is a battle of little guys off the bench. Last season in Phoenix, Ulis hit a buzzer beater to give the Suns a win. He is averaging 6.8 points, 1.6 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Larkin is 1 inch taller at 5’11” and is a good defender for his size and so hopefully he can keep Ulis from hitting any big shots in this one.

Keys to the Game Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics still have the top defensive rating in the league at 101.3 while Phoenix is last with a defensive rating of 110.8. The Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority if they want to continue to win. You can’t win without defense.

Rebound - The Celtics need to rebound on the offensive end to give themselves extra possessions and to prevent the Suns from racking up fast break points as the Suns are 6th in the league with 14.2 fast break points per game. They also have to crash the boards on the defensive end to prevent the Suns from getting tip ins and second chance points as they average 13.4 second chance points per game (8th in the league). The Celtics are going to have to put out extra effort to win the battle of the boards in this one.

Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team in going after loose balls and rebounds, in defending, in going to the basket. They tend to back off and be less aggressive when they face teams that they expect to beat easily. They can’t let the fact that Phoenix is last in the league to keep them from playing all out, especially since they beat the Celtics in Phoenix last season when they were near the bottom of the league.

Keep Up the Pace - The Suns are 2nd in the league in pace, averaging 102.9 possessions per 48 minutes of play. The Celtics are 23rd in the league in pace, averaging 98.4 possessions per 48 minutes. The Celtics need to limit the Suns possessions by taking care of the ball and rebounding. They also need to make every possession count by moving the ball and finding the open man and being sure to take good shots and not forcing contested shots.

Revenge Factor - There is the Marcus Morris revenge factor as he very much still resents how he was treated by the Suns when he was there. Then there is the revenge factor for Booker’s 70 points and the way he got them, followed by an over the top celebration in the locker room, in spite of his team’s loss. And there is revenge for the 3 point loss in Phoenix on the Ulis buzzer beater over Isaiah.

Underestimation Factor - The Celtics can’t afford to underestimate the Suns because even a tanking team that is last in the league will play hard if they are given any hope to get a win. The Celtics have to come out playing hard and not give the Suns any hope that they can get a win in this one. This is a perfect example of a trap game. Last place team on the road in the middle of a road trip after playing and traveling the night before.

Road Fatigue Factor - The Celtics may be getting a bit road weary after 2 games on the the road out West and with one more to go. They are also playing in back to back games and still short handed and so they may be very tired by the end of this one. Hopefully they can dig down deep and find the energy and focus to get a win.

Injury Factor - If Booker plays, the Suns will be a bit harder to beat than if he misses his 5th straight game and Troy Daniels plays in his place. Also, if Marcus Morris can play, it will give the Celtics a little more depth that they may need with it being back to back games. Both players are considered game time decisions.

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