The Celtics are back home after a tough loss in Milwaukee. They are hosting the Phoenix Suns, who are coming off a 23 point win to sweep the Knicks in New York. This is the 2nd and final game between these two teams this season. The Celtics beat the Suns 99-85 on November 18 in Phoenix. Ricky Rubio and Deandre Ayton both missed that game.
The is the 3rd game of a 3 game Eastern road trip for the Suns. They are 1-1 so far with a win over the Knicks and a loss to the Hawks. The Celtics are at home for the first of a 3 game home stand before they head out for another 3 game road trip. The Suns last played on Thursday night in New York and they should be rested, even though they had to travel afterwards.
The Celtics have dropped to 3rd in the East, 1 game behind the Heat and 1 game ahead of the Raptors. The Suns are 11th in the West, 2 games out of 8th place. The Celtics are 16-4 at home and 5-5 in their last 10 games while the Suns are 8-10 on the road and 6-4 in their last 10. The Celtics are looking to get back on track after losing 2 straight while the Suns are looking to win their second straight on the road.
The Celtics will welcome Aron Baynes back to TD Garden for the first time since he was traded in the off season. Baynes loved being a Celtic and Celtics fans hated to see him go. He is averaging 11.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists for the Suns. He is shooting 49.7% from the field and 33.6% from beyond the arc. Hopefully the Celtics will give him a warm welcome back to Boston.
Robert Williams remains out for the Celtics with the hip injury. Jaylen Brown missed Thursday’s game with a sprained thumb and although an MRI showed no structural damage, he is out for this game also. I have included Marcus Smart in the starting lineup once again. Marcus Smart (sprained ankle) and Daniel Theis (knee soreness) are listed as available for this game as if now.
Kemba Walker is listed as questionable with knee soreness and his status is a game time decision. Tremont Waters has been called up from the Red Claws but Carsen Edwards remains in Maine. There are several possibilities to replace Kemba if he is out. Waters or Wanamaker may start at the point or possibly Smart starts at the point and someone else starts at shooting guard.
Ricky Rubio and Deandre Ayton both missed the first game in Phoenix. Both are back for this game, however a different starter, Kelly Oubre, Jr is expected to miss his second straight game with a concussion. Frank Kaminsky is expected to be out until at least March 1 with a patella fracture. Cameron Johnson is questionable with a quad injury and will be a game time decision.
Probable Celtics Starters
Carsen Edwards (g-league assignment) out
Robert Williams (hip) out
Jaylen Brown (thumb) questionable
Marcus Smart (ankle) available
Daniel Theis (knee) available
Two Way Players
Probable Suns Starters
Cameron Johnson (quad) questionable
Frank Kaminsky III (knee) out
Kelly Oubre, Jr. (concussion) out
Two Way Player
Marcus Smart vs Devin Booker
Booker can put up points in bunches as evidenced by the 70 point game he had against the Celtics in 2017. He is averaging 26.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. He is shooting 50.5% from the field and 35.7% from three. The Celtics need to play very good defense on him, whether it is Marcus Smart or Jaylen Brown who is matched up with him. They don’t need another 70 point game from him in this one.
Daniel Theis vs Deandre Ayton
Ayton missed the game in Phoenix between these two teams and he will definitely make the Suns tougher to cover. He is averaging 16.8 points, 12 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. He is shooting 55.8% from the field but has not attempted a three this season. He had 26 points and 21 rebounds on Thursday against the Knicks. Theis will need to keep Ayton out of the paint and off the boards.
Kemba Walker vs Ricky Rubio
Rubio has had some big games against the Celtics in the past. He is averaging 13.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 9.4 assists. He is shooting 41.3% from the field and 33.9% from beyond the arc. Kemba is coming off a 40 point game against the Bucks and Rubio is coming off a 25 point 13 assist game against the Knicks. Kemba emerged from that game with knee soreness and so is questionable for this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics are 4th with a defensive rating of 105.3. The Suns have a defensive rating of 110.3 (19th) but over their last 4 games, they have a defensive rating of 102.0, which is second only to the Bucks. The Celtics need to make defense a priority if they want to get back to winning. You won’t win many games without defense. The Celtics need to guard the perimeter as the Suns have players who can hit from outside. They also need to guard the paint as the Suns are 11th in the league with 48.6 points in the paint.
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 8th in the league with 14.7 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. The Celtics are going to have to put out extra effort to win the battle of the boards in this one.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - The Celtics have gotten off to a slow start in too many games and fallen behind by double digits before making a run to catch up. They must come out ready to play and play hard from the opening tip to the final buzzer. The Celtics outplayed the Bucks in the second half on Thursday, but their slow start was too much to overcome. They have to start strong and play hard for 48 minutes.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man. Hero ball rarely ends well. Several times recently they lapsed into hero ball with players trying to do too much instead of sharing the ball. The Celtics need to move the ball but also, take care of the ball and make careful passes because the Suns are 3rd in the league with 18.6 points off turnovers per game.
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 have to be the team that plays harder and that wants to win more. The Celtics have allowed teams like the Wizards and the Pistons to be more aggressive and to play harder than them and it has led to losing to teams they should beat. For some reason, teams seem to play their hardest and their best when facing the Celtics. The Celtics have to work even harder to outplay their opponents.
Home Again - The Celtics are back at home where they should get a boost from the home crowd. They need to focus on the game and gain motivation from having the fans behind them. The Suns are on the road and should be dealing with the distractions of travel and a hostile crowd that may take their focus off of the game.
Injuries - Injuries can be an x-factor in that it makes it difficult for teams to maintain chemistry and continuity with parts of their rotation missing. Also with players at less than 100%, it affects team play. For the Celtics, Brown is a key piece that is missing and if Kemba can’t play, that will make it tough. Also with Smart and Theis playing at less than 100%, it will make it hard for them. The Suns are missing key pieces with Oubre and Kaminsky both out. Which team can overcome the injuries better
Officiating - I know that I say this every game, but the officiating is always an x-factor in every game. Every crew calls the game differently whether they call every little ticky tack foul or they let a lot of contact go and let the teams play. Some refs favor the home team and some not so much. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called and not let bad calls or no calls take their focus off of playing the game.