The Celtics traveled to San Antonio on Tuesday as they prepared to face the Spurs for their only meeting on the schedule so far. The Spurs had their game on Monday against the Grizzlies cancelled supposedly because neither team had enough players due to contact tracing, even though the Spurs had just one player on the injury list.
That game was cancelled less than an hour before tip off with both teams already on the court shooting around. The Spurs still have just one player on the injured list and there has been no new information on which players are affected by the contact tracing and so at this time we are just hoping that the game goes on as planned.
The Celtics are 2nd in the East, just one game behind the Philadelphia 76ers. They are 5-4 on the road and 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Spurs are 9th in the West, but have the same record as Memphis (6th), Phoenix (7th) and Golden State (8th). but lack the tie breakers to move ahead of any of the other 3 teams. They are 3-5 at home and 6-4 in their last 10 games.
The Spurs last played on Sunday when they beat the Wizards 121-101, which snapped a 2 game losing streak. The Celtics also last played on Monday when they beat the Bulls 119-103, giving them a 2 game win streak after having lost the previous 3 games.
The Celtics have quite a few young players on their team, but the Spurs have the youngest roster in franchise history since Popovich took over as coach. Their average age is 25.5 with 9 players under 25. The Celtics and Spurs split the series 1-1 last season with each team winning on the road.
If this game is played, the Celtics are hoping to have Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on the court at the same time for the first time this season. I’m going to also guess that Daniel Theis will win the starting center spot since he has been playing so well. Only Romeo Langford (wrist) and Payton Pritchard (knee) are still out. For the Spurs, only Derrick White (toe) is listed as out. However, we don’t know what players were out for Monday’s game for contact tracing that put them below 8 active players.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Payton Pritchard (knee) out
Probable Spurs Starters
PG: Lonnie Walker IV
SG: DeJounte Murray
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: Keldon Johnson
C: LaMarcus Aldridge
Derrick White (toe) out
Jaylen Brown vs DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is leading the Spurs with 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.1 steals. He is shooting 46% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc. Brown has been the Celtics most consistent player this season on both ends of the court and should be a good match up for DeRozan.
Jayson Tatum vs Keldon Johnson
Jayson Tatum returned to the court in the Celtics last game after missing 5 games due to covid and played like he had never been gone. Johnson is averaging 14.2 points and is leading the Spurs with 7.3 rebounds per game. He is shooting 46% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc.
Daniel Theis vs LaMarcus Aldridge
Aldridge is averaging 14.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He is shooting 46% from the field and although he is shooting just 30% from beyond the arc, he hit 4 threes in a game on January 22, so you can’t slack off of him on the perimeter. I put Daniel Theis in the starting lineup because he has been the Celtics best center recently, but it could very well be Tristan Thompson who gets the start here.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins games and so the Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority. The Celtics are 13th with a defensive rating of 109.1 while the Spurs are 8th with a defensive rating of 108.6 Since they are very close on offense with the Celtics averaging 112.6 points per game and the Spurs averaging 111.4 points per game, defense will likely decide the winner of this 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 44.8 rebounds per game while the Spurs are averaging 46.1 rebounds per game. Rebounding takes effort and when the Celtics put forth the extra effort on the boards, that tends to spread to other areas of the game as well.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics need to move the ball to find the open man. The Celtics can’t lapse into hero ball and over dribbling. But, they have to make good passes and take care of the ball as they don’t want to turn the ball over. The Spurs turn the over at a historic low 10.18 turnovers per game and the Celtics can’t get sloppy with the ball.
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. They have to be the team that works harder and wants it more.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have to start off strong and then play hard throughout the game until the final buzzer. They can’t let up if they get ahead and they can’t afford to start off slow and get behind. They will need consistent effort from start to finish from both the starters and the reserves if they want to beat the Spurs.
Road Game - The Celtics are playing on the road once again. Travel and staying in hotels can be a distraction and can also take a toll on players. Also the situation with covid and a possible postponement can be a distraction. The Celtics have to put all of those distractions aside and concentrate on playing their game.
Coaching - Gregg Popovich is considered by many to be the best coach in the league. Brad Stevens is considered to be one of the best young coaches 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?
Officiating - Officiating is always an X-Factor. Every crew officiates differently and teams need to adjust to the way the game is called. With no fans, pretty much the only home court advantage teams get these days is in the form of home refs. Hopefully we get fair officiating and they let them play.