The Celtics complete their 5 game Western road trip with a stop in Phoenix to take on the 20-4 Suns. This is the first of two meetings between these two teams this season. They will meet again in Boston On New Year’s Eve. These teams split the series 1-1 last season with each team winning on their home court. After this game, the Celtics will have a 5 game home stand beginning with the Bucks on Monday. The Suns have been off since Monday and don’t play again until Monday at the Clippers so they should be well rested.
The Celtics are 10th in the East and have lost their last 2 games. They are 7-9 on the road and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are also 5-5 against Western Conference teams. The Suns are 2nd in the West and 11-2 at home. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games. They had their 18 game win streak broken by the Warriors and then went right back to winning in the next game against the Spurs. They are 1-0 against Eastern Conference teams.
Jaylen Brown has missed the last 4 games for the Celtics as he works to get 100% healthy after suffering a hamstring injury. He missed 8 games and then came back but was not fully healthy and was held out once again when he felt tightness in his hamstring. He has been participating in workouts, but the Celtics are being very cautious not to bring him back too early once again. Bruno Fernando has also been ruled out with back spasms. Jabari Parker missed the Clippers game with an illness but is not on the injury list at this time. Dennis Schroder is listed as questionable after rolling his ankle vs the Clippers. His status is a game time decision. I would guess that Romeo Langford or Payton Prichard will get the start if Schroder can’t play. Josh Richardson was a late scratch as he entered the league’s covid-19 protocols.
The Suns will be missing Devin Booker, who is their leading scorer. Booker especially has liked playing the Celtics over the years, averaging 28.1 points per game, which is his highest average against any team in the league. Frank Kaminsky is also listed as out with a stress reaction in his knee. Dario Saric has yet to play for the Suns this season after tearing his ACL in the playoffs. Former Celtic Abdel Nader has missed the past 9 games and is questionable for this one with soreness in his knee. Deandre Ayton is questionable for this game with a non-covid illness. If he can’t go, I expect JaVale McGee to get the start in his place.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jaylen Brown (hamstring) out
Dennis Schroder (ankle) questionable
Bruno Fernando (back) out
Josh Richardson (covid) out
Probable Suns Starters
- Chris Paul Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images
- Devin Booker Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images
- Mikal Bridges Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
- Cameron Johnson Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images
- JaVale McGee Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images
Devin Booker (hamstring) out
Frank Kaminsky III (knee) out
Dario Saric (knee) out
Abdel Nader (knee) questionable
Deandre Ayton (illness) questionable
Two Way Players
Marcus Smart vs Chris Paul
Chris Paul is playing very well for the Suns and is one of the reasons they have been so successful. He is averaging 14.6 points,4.0 rebounds, 10.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game. He is shooting 48.1% from the field and 34.2% from beyond the arc. He runs the Suns offense and the Celtics need to keep him from getting open shots and also they need to keep him from easily setting up his teammates.
Robert Williams III vs DeAndre
Ayton Ayton is averaging 16.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game. He is shooting 59.0% from the field and 19.0% from beyond the arc. This should be a fun matchup of two athletic centers. The Celtics need to keep Ayton out of the paint and off the boards. With Ayton being a late addition to the injury list as questionable, if he can’t play, it will likely be JaVale McGee starting at center.
Al Horford vs Jae Crowder
In the past, Crowder has always played with extra effort against his former team. He plays very physical defense and also is more aggressive on the offensive end. He is averaging 9.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 38.7% from the field and 33.8% from beyond the arc.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have slid back to 9th with a defensive rating of 107.1 but the Suns are 2nd with a defensive rating of 104.1. The Celtics have gone away from the defensive game plan that helped them to get on track and win games earlier. In Portland, it seemed as though they finally put it together at both ends of the court but then in both LA games, they just went away from what had been working for them. The Suns are 6th with an offensive rating of 110.2 and so the Celtics must make defense a priority if they want to win this game.
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. 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.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics need to move the ball but they also need to make careful passes and they need to be focused when they dribble and not turn the ball over. The Celtics turned the ball over 23 times against the Clippers and they simply can’t be that careless in this game if they have any hopes of getting a win. The Suns average 17.0 points off turnovers but if the Celtics turn it over like they did against the Clippers, I have a feeling that will be going up.
Play Hard 48 Minutes - The Celtics seem to have lapses in every game where they let up on their effort and where they lose focus for awhile and can’t recover from those lapses. Against the Clippers, they won 3 of the 4 quarters, but in the 2nd quarter they played so poorly that they couldn’t overcome the hole that they dug. They must come out ready to play right from the opening tip and they have to play hard and stay focused through all 4 quarters right up until the final buzzer.
Road Fatigue - The Celtics are playing in the final game of a 5 game road trip. They have had a lot of travel and had sleep in hotels and play in hostile arenas. This is their 3rd game in 4 nights. It would be understandable if their legs are tired and they somewhat road weary. Can they find another gear and get a win in the toughest game of their trip?
Officiating - I know that I say this every game, but the officiating always has the possibility to be 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 call for both teams evenly. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called and not allow the officiating to take away from their focus.