The Celtics finish the bubble preseason with a scrimmage against the Houston Rockets. This is also the Rockets’ final scrimmage. Both teams are 1-1 in their first two scrimmages. The Rockets lost 94-83 to the Raptors in their first scrimmage and then beat the Grizzlies 119-104 in their 2nd scrimmage on Sunday.
These two teams have already played twice this season with the Rockets coming out on top in both games. The Rockets have won their last 5 games against Boston and have swept 4 of the last 6 season series. The Rockets won 116-105 on February 11 in Houston and then beat the Celtics 111-110 in OT on February 29 in Boston.
The Celtics have a regular season record of 43-21. They are 3rd in the East, 3 games behind 2nd place Toronto and 2.5 games ahead of 4th the 4th place Heat. The Rockets have a regular season record of 40-24. They are 6th in the West and tied with the Thunder who are in 5th because they own the tie breaker. The Rockets are 1 game behind 54th place Utah and 1.5 games ahead of 7th place Dallas.
The Celtics have no injuries listed and should have all 17 players healthy for this final scrimmage, barring any last minute tweaks or illnesses. For the Rockets, William Howard, David Nwaba, and Thabo Sefolosha are not with the Rockets in the Bubble. Russell Westbrook joined the team late due to a positive Covid diagnosis but played in both scrimmages so should be fine. Austin Rivers left the bubble for personal reasons and should clear quarantine on Tuesday but is doubtful for this scrimmage.
Probable Celtics Starters
Probable Rockets Starters
Danuel House, Jr
Luc Mbah a Moute
Austin Rivers (personal) doubtful
William Howard NWT
David Nwaba NWT
Thabo Sefolosha NWT
Kemba Walker vs Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is averaging 27.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.7 steals. He is always a threat to post a triple double. He was late to join the team due to a positive Covid diagnosis but played 15 minutes and 26 minutes in the first 2 scrimmages so should be good for this one. Kemba played just 9 minutes in the last scrimmage but looked good and so should play again in this one.
Jaylen Brown vs James Harden
Harden is one of the toughest players in the league to guard as he is a master at drawing fouls, shooting 12 free throws a game. He is averaging 34.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game. He is shooting 43.5% from the field and 35.2% from beyond the arc. Marcus Smart has done well in the past to limit Harden and get into his head and we will likely see him guarding Harden at times in this game. Limiting Harden is very important. The Rockets are 16-2 when he scores 40 or more points. They are 24-6 when he scores 34 or more points and they are 8-12 when he scores fewer then 34 points. He scored 31 points in 35 minutes in their last scrimmage.
Gordon Hayward vs Eric Gordon
Gordon is averaging 14.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. He is shooting 42.5% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. In the Rockets’ previous scrimmage, he played 30 minutes, scoring 8 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to every game. The Rockets are 2nd in the league in scoring at 118.1 points per game. The Celtics are 11th, averaging 113.0 points per game. The Rockets are 16th with a defensive rating of 109.9 while the Celtics are 4th with a defensive rating of 106.2. The Celtics defense was much better in their second scrimmage and they absolutely need to play hard nose gritty team defense if they want to win this scrimmage. They need to especially guard the 3 point line as the Rockets made 21 threes in their win over the Grizzlies.
Rebound - In order to score, the Celtics need the ball and to get the ball, they will need to crash the boards as a team. The Celtics average 46.0 rebounds per game while the Rockets average 44.9 rebounds per game. Much of rebounding is effort and when the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards, it usually carries over into the rest of their game.
Bench Play - Brad Stevens may play his starters more minutes in this scrimmage since it is the final tune up before the regular season resumes. Mike D’Antoni has been playing his starters big minutes (30+ minutes) in the first scrimmages and will likely do the same in this one. Regardless, the Celtics reserves have got to give them productive minutes if they hope to contend for the title this season.
Swagger - In Sunday’s Globe, Gary Washburn mentioned that he didn’t see the same swagger in the Celtics that he sees in the other contenders like the Bucks, Raptors, Lakers and Clippers. There are no fans to get them excited or pumped up. They have to do that themselves as a team and to develop that swagger starting with this game.
Communication - After the first scrimmage, Brad Stevens mentioned that Chris Paul dominated that game with his voice. The Celtics need to be loud and talk to each other on both ends of the court. Reserves need to be loud and support their teammates on the court. This goes along with having swagger. They need to be vocal and communicate with each other.
Final Scrimmage - With it being the final scrimmage, coaches may play their starters more or possibly play them less, worrying about a possible injury before the real games begin. Both teams will want to tune up their offense and defense along with finishing the game healthy. How they do that remains to be seen.
Bubble Conditions - Teams are still getting used to playing without fans and in a neutral arena. They are away from family and have concerns about their loved ones. It’s tough to know which teams this will affect the most. But, they are finding out now as they play which teams are going to excel in this environment and which teams will falter because of it.
Officiating - The same NBA officials accompanied the teams into the bubble. We know that some officials have agendas and some are quick to call fouls and others will let them play. Hopefully we won’t see James Harden at the line 20+ times as he has been known to do in the past and the officials will call the game fairly.