The Celtics head out on the road for two games after a 4 game home stand. The first stop is in San Antonio to take on the Spurs. They will head to Toronto for a rematch with the division rival Raptors. The Celtics and Spurs tied the series 1-1 last year with each team winning on their home court. This is the first of 2 games between them this year. The Spurs will travel to Boston on January 5 for the second and final meeting.
The Celtics had climbed to 6th in the East after their 3 game home win streak but dropped back to 10th after losing to the Nets on Wednesday. They are 5-5 on the road and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 4-1 vs Western Conference teams. The Spurs are 13th in the West and have lost their last 6 games. They are 2-6 at home an 2-8 in their last 10 games. They are 3-3 vs Eastern Conference teams.
The Spurs are playing in the 3rd game of a 4 game home stand. The Celtics just finished a 4 game home stand and are playing in the first of a short 2 game road trip. They will return home for one game against the 76ers before heading out West for a 5 game road trip. The Celtics are 41-56 all time against the Spurs and 19-29 all time in San Antonio.
Jaylen Brown is once again listed as questionable for this game as they manage his hamstring injury. He was also questionable for Wednesday’s game and played in that game. If he plays, he will likely be on a minutes restriction. If he is out, Dennis Schroder will likely start in his place. Robert Williams has been ruled out due to a non-covid illness. Josh Richardson is doubtful, also with a non-covid illness.
For the Spurs, Zach Collins is out with a foot that he fractured in June. He has yet to make his Spurs debut. Doug McDermott missed Wednesday’s game with an inflamed knee and is questionable for this game. If he can play, he would likely start at small forward. Devin Vassell left Wednesday’s game with a right quad contusion and is questionable for this game. Both Vassell and McDermott are a game time decision.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Grant Williams
C: Al Horford
Jaylen Brown (conditioning) questionable
Josh Richardson (illness) doubtful
Rob Williams (illness) out
Probable Spurs Starters
PG: DeJounte Murray
SG: Derrick White
SF: Keldon Johnson
PF: Keita Bates-Diop
C: Jakob Poeltl
Lonnie Walker IV
Zach Collins (foot) out
Doug McDermott (knee) questionable
Devin Vassell (quad) questionable
Marcus Smart vs Dejounte Murray
Murray is leading the Spurs with 18.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He is shooting 44.3% from the field but just 29.5% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to keep him from getting into the paint where he can score and grab rebounds.
Jayson Tatum vs Keldon Johnson
Johnson is averaging 14.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He is shooting 45.4% from the field and 37.8% from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum struggled offensively once again vs the Nets shooting just 25% from the field and 11.1% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need Tatum to play better in this one if they want to win.
Al Horford vs Jacob Poeltl
Poeltl is averaging 12.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game. He is shooting 65.9% from the field but hasn’t made a 3 pointer this season. He is also shooting just 28.6% from the free throw line. Al should move over to center once again with Timelord out.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the most important key to winning games. The Celtics have said that they want tough defense to be their identity. They need to continue to make defense a priority. The Celtics are 10th with a defensive rating of 105.4 while the Spurs are 20th with a defensive rating of 108.7 Since they are very close on offense with the Celtics averaging 108.1 points per game and the Spurs averaging 107.3 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, who are 5th in the league with 14.8 second chance points per game. The Celtics are averaging 46.8 rebounds per game while the Spurs are averaging 43.8 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 because things rarely end well when they do. 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 average 17.8 points per game off turnovers and they will make the Celtics pay if they get careless.
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. They allowed the Nets to play harder than them and it showed in the final score.
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. The Celtics must find some consistency to play all out for 48 minutes every game.
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. Playing in front of a hostile crowd can also be a distraction, especially for younger players. The Celtics have to put all of those distractions aside and focus on playing their game.
Coaching - Gregg Popovich is considered by most to be one of the best coaches in the league. Ime Udoka spent many years learning on Popovich’s staff. Matchups and coaching strategy chould 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. Will they call the game evenly or favor the home team? Will they call it tight or let them play? Hopefully we get fair officiating and they let them play and the Celtics focus on playing and not on the calls.