The Celtics look to get back on track as they host the Phoenix Suns for a matinee game on New Year’s Eve. It definitely will be a tough task as the Suns are tied with the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the league. This is the second and final game between these two teams this season. The Suns won the first game 111-90 on December 10 in Phoenix. These two teams tied the series 1-1 last season with each team winning on their home court.
The Celtics are 10th in the East and have lost 3 straight games. They are 9-7 at home and have won just 3 of their last 10 games. They are 5-9 against Western Conference teams. The Suns are tied for first in the West and won their last game, snapping a two game losing streak. They are 11-3 on the road and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 9-0 against Eastern Conference teams.
The Celtics are 73-59 all time against the Suns and they are 41-23 all time in games played in Boston. Phoenix are playing the first game of a 3 game road trip. The Celtics are playing the 2nd game of a 4 game home stand, having lost the first game in the home stand to the Clippers on Wednesday. Both teams last played at home on Wednesday.
Both teams are dealing with injuries, as have pretty much all teams in recent games. The Celtics get Marcus Smart back from a 2 game absence with a hand laceration. Still out are Jayson Tatum, Dennis Schroder, Aaron Nesmith, Bruno Fernando and Enes Freedom, all in the health and safety protocols. I’m guessing that Smart goes back to starting at the point and Romeo Langford once again fills in for Jayson Tatum in the starting lineup.
The Suns have 3 players out in the health and safety protocols and one other a game time decision due to the protocols. Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder are out, while Elfrid Payton is a game time decision. Frank Kaminsky has been out since November 21 with a stress reaction in his knee. Abdel Nader has missed 18 games with a knee injury but was also placed in health and safety protocols on Thursday. Dario Saric has been out for the season with a torn ACL.
Dennis Schroder (covid) out
Aaron Nesmith (covid) out
Bruno Fernando (covid) out
Enes Freedom (covid) out
Jayson Tatum (covid) out
Probable Suns Starters
Deandre Ayton (covid) out
Jae Crowder (covid) out
Frank Kaminsky III (knee) out
Abdel Nader (knee) out Elfrid
Payton (covid) game time decision
Dario Saric (knee) out
Romeo Langford vs Devin Booker
Booker is averaging 28.1 points against the Celtics for his career, the most against any team in the league. Of course, that 70 point game he had against the Celtics helped a lot. He is averaging 23.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.0 steals per game. He is shooting 45.7% from the field and 42.8% from beyond the arc for the season. The Celtics have to play good defense on him or he may put up another 70 point game.
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 over the past two seasons. He is averaging 14.4 points,4.1 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game. He is shooting 48.3% from the field and 31.3% 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.
Jaylen Brown vs Mikal Bridges
Bridges is averaging 12.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 51.9% from the field and 38.6% from beyond the arc. Jaylen had a tough game against the Clippers on Wednesday and the Celtics need him to bounce back and play well against this tough Suns team.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have slid back to 9th with a defensive rating of 107.5. The Suns are 3rd with a defensive rating of 103.6. The Celtics have gone away from the defensive game plan that helped them to get on track and win games earlier. The Suns are 3rd, averaging 111.8 points per game, while the Celtics are 17th, averaging 107.6 points per game. 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 have a slight advantage on the boards as they average 46 rebounds per game (7th) while the Suns average 45.9 rebounds per game (10). 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. At times the Celtics seem to lose focus and get sloppy with the ball and turn it over several times in a row. The Suns average 17.1 points off turnovers and they will definitely make the Celtics pay if they get sloppy with the ball and turn it over.
Stay Focused - I have to think that some of the Celtics problems with their shooting is a lack of focus. I know they can shoot better than 9.5% from beyond the arc. They need to stay focused and take good shots and not allow their misses or their opponents get in their heads and frustrate them. Better focus may fix a lot of their shooting woes.
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. They play good for 3 quarters and then collapse for some reason. This may come down to focus as well. 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.
Home Game - The Celtics are 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 Celtics are playing in the second of a 4 game home stand so they didn’t have to travel and should be the more rested team. The Suns are playing in the 1st game of a 3 game road trip and should be dealing with distractions from travel, staying in a hotel, and playing in a hostile arena as well as fatigue from traveling. The Celtics need to protect home court and come out ready to play hard and win.
Injuries - Both of these teams, along with most of the other teams, are dealing with health and safety protocols and injuries. The Celtics will likely be without 5 players and the Suns will be without 5 or 6 players. Both teams are missing at least one starter. Hopefully the Celtics will come out strong and play hard, even without several key players. Next man up.
Officiating - I know that I say this every game, but the officiating can always 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 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.