The Celtics reach the fourth game of their 5 game road trip with a 2-1 record on the trip. They take on the Phoenix Suns in a matinee game before the Super Bowl takes center spot in the evening. Both teams have a 12-9 record and both teams are coming off a win in their last game. The Suns have won 4 of their last 5 games.
The Celtics are 4th in the East, 3 games behind the first place 76ers. The Suns are 5th in the West, 5 games behind the 1st place Jazz. The Celtics are 7-6 on the road while the Suns are 5-4 at home. The Celtics are 3-3 vs Western Conference teams while the Suns are 3-2 vs Eastern Conference teams. The Celtics are 4-6 in their last 10 games while the Suns are 5-5 in their last 10.
These two teams tied the season series last year 1-1, with each team winning on the road. The Suns are playing in the second of a 7 game home stand while the Celtics are playing in the 4th game of a 5 game road trip. The Suns are wearing black armbands to honor former Suns and Celtics star, Paul Westphal.
Two of the Suns biggest comebacks in their history have come against the Celtics. They came from 29 points back on 12/5/03 and also from 26 down on 12/15/73. The Celtics also came back from 22 down to beat the Suns on 11/8/18. Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals between the Suns and Celtics is considered to be the greatest game ever played. The Celtics won that game 128-126 in 3 overtimes.
The Celtics will be short handed once again in this game. Jaylen Brown missed Friday’s game with knee soreness and is expected to miss this game as well. Daniel Theis did not play in the second half of Friday’s game due to knee soreness and is probable for this game. Marcus Smart (calf) and Romeo Langford (wrist) are also out. I expect Grant Williams to get the start once again.
Jae Crowder missed the Suns’ Friday game with foot soreness and is considered a game time decision for this game. If he can play, I would expect him to move back into the starting lineup in place of Cameron Johnson. Cameron Payne has missed the past 6 games with a foot sprain and is a game time decision for this one. Dario Saric has missed 10 games with Covid and is also a game time decision.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jayson Tatum
SF: Grant Williams
PF: Daniel Theis
C: Tristan Thompson
Robert Williams III
Marcus Smart (calf) out
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Jaylen Brown (knee) out
Daniel Theis (knee) probable
Probable Suns Starters
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Devin Booker
SF: Mikal Bridges
PF: Cameron Johnson
C: Deandre Ayton
Frank Kaminsky III
Jae Crowder (foot) game time decision
Cameron Payne (foot) game time decision
Dario Saric (covid) game time decision
Jayson Tatum vs Devin Booker
Booker can put up points in bunches as evidenced by the 70 point game he had against the Celtics in 2017. He is averaging 23.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. He is shooting 48% from the field and 35% from three. I’m expecting Tatum to move up to shooting guard once again with Jaylen being out.
Kemba Walker vs Chris Paul
This should be a fun matchup between two very good point guards. Chris Paul is averaging 16.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 8.5 assists, and 1.2 steals. He is shooting 47% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc. Kemba showed signs of getting back to being Kemba in the game against the Clippers. He is going to need to keep playing well for the Celtics to win against a tough Suns team with Chris Paul at the point.
Tristan Thompson vs Deandre Ayton
Ayton is averaging 13.9 points, 14.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.1 blocks per game. He is shooting 56% from the field but just 17% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to particularly keep him off the boards.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics are 12th with a defensive rating of 109.7 but the Suns are 5th with a defensive rating of 107.7. The Celtics need to make defense a priority if they want to win this game. You won’t win many games without defense. They will miss Smart’s defense, but the players on the floor have to all commit to playing tough individual and team defense.
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.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team in going after loose balls and rebounds, in defending, in going to the basket. They have to be the team that plays harder and that wants to win more. The Celtics outworked the Clippers down the stretch and got the win. They have to outwork the Suns in this one also.
Bench Play - The Celtics reserves came up big in the game against the Clippers. The Celtics will need them to contribute once again in this game, especially if Brown and Theis have to sit out. With everyone being tired from travel and playing tough games, and with players being out, the Celtics need their reserves to step up once again.
Road Fatigue - The Celtics are playing in the 4th game of a 5 game road trip. They have had a lot of travel and had to fill in for injured teammates. It would be understandable if their legs are tired and they somewhat road weary. Can they find another gear and outplay the Suns?
Injuries - With Brown being ruled out and Marcus Smart still being out, the Celtics are missing two of their main rotation players. Theis is expected to play but will he be hampered by the knee soreness? Will the reserves step up once again? Will Jae Crowder, who always plays hard against the Celtics, be available for the Suns?
Matinee Game - The game has a 2:00 pm start. Often early games catch the teams with a lack of energy and shooting struggles. It affects some teams more than others. It could be an ugly game if both teams are struggling or could be a blow out for one team or the other if just one team struggles. Hopefully both teams come ready to play and we have a good game.
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 call for both teams evenly. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called.