The Celtics host the Phoenix Suns for the second and final regular season meeting this season. The Celtics lost 100-91 to the Suns in Phoenix on February 7. Back on February 7 when they played, both teams had the same record at 12-9. The Celtics and Suns tied the series last season 1-1 with each team winning on the road.
The Suns are playing in the 3rd game of a 5 game road trip. They are playing on the second night of back to back games, having beat the 76ers on Wednesday night in a game that went down to the buzzer. The Suns are 10-3 when playing on the second night of back to back games. The Celtics are playing on the first night of back to back games, with a game in Brooklyn on Friday.
After tying the Hawks for 4th place, the Celtics have slipped back to 6th place after losing just one game. As of Wednesday, they are 1 game behind New York (4th) and half a game behind Atlanta (5th). They are half a game ahead of Miami (7th) and 2.5 games ahead of Charlotte (8th). The Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10 games and 18-11 at home. They are 13-12 against western teams.
The Suns are 2nd in the West and also in the league. They are just 1 game behind the first place Utah Jazz. They are 2 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers and 4 games ahead of the 4th place Denver Nuggets. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and 19-7 on the road. They are 17-6 against Eastern Conference teams.
The Suns have been healthy for most of the season. The have had to use just 5 different starting lineups this season. They are 25-9 with this current lineup. The Celtics, on the other hand, have had to use 25 different starting lineups this season. Their preferred lineup with Walker, Smart, Brown, Tatum and Williams have played just 7 games together and they are 6-1 in those games.
The Celtics have a lengthy injury list once again for this game. Evan Fournier will miss his 9th straight game due to health and safety protocols. He is out of quarantine but still not ready to return to the lineup. Kemba Walker missed Monday’s game and also missed Wednesday’s practice. He is expected to play in this game, however. Marcus Smart, who also missed Monday’s game practiced on Wednesday and will be available for this game.
Jaylen Brown injured his shoulder some time during Monday’s game vs the Bulls. He is listed as doubtful with bursitis in his shoulder. Robert Williams will miss his fourth straight game with knee soreness. He did some work at practice on Wednesday but isn’t ready to return. Finally, Jayson Tatum is expected to play in this game after being originally listed as questionable with an ankle impingement.
I’m guessing that Jaylen Brown likely won’t play since he is listed as doubtful. I’m also guessing that Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker will play in this game. In the past, when Jaylen missed a game, Grant Williams filled in at power forward while Jayson moved to small forward and I’ve included this in the lineup for this game. Although, Brad never seems to do what you expect him to.
For the Suns, Abdel Nader is out with a knee injury. Jae Crowder left Wednesday’s game with a sprained ankle and has been ruled out for this game. Dario Saric was dealing with soreness in his ankle on Wednesday and is considered a game time decision for this game. With Crowder out and Saric questionable, Cam Johnson will likely get the start at power forward.
Probable Celtics Starters
Evan Fournier (health and safety protocols) out
Robert Williams III (knee) out
Jaylen Brown (shoulder) doubtful
Kemba Walker (illness) available
Jayson Tatum (ankle) available
Marcus Smart (illness) available
Probable Suns Starters
Abdel Nader (knee) out
Jae Crowder (ankle) out
Dario Saric (ankle) questionable
Marcus Smart vs Devin Booker
Booker can put up points in bunches as evidenced by the 70 point game he had against the Celtics in 2017. In the February game vs the Celtics, he had 18 points, 7 rebounds and 11 assists. He is averaging 25.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. He is shooting 48.3% from the field and 34.7% from three. Marcus needs to limit his scoring to have a chance in this game.
Kemba Walker vs Chris Paul
This should be a fun matchup between two very good point guards. Chris Paul is averaging 15.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 1.5 steals. He is shooting 48.4% from the field and 36.5% from beyond the arc. Kemba has been playing well recently but he missed the last game with an illness so hopefully he continues to play well in this one. 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 15.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game. He is shooting 62.5% from the field but just 20% from beyond the arc. He has taken 20 threes on the season and made just 4 of them. The Celtics need to particularly keep him out of the paint and off the boards.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics are 13th with a defensive rating of 111.6 but the Suns are 5th with a defensive rating of 108.7. The Celtics need to make defense a priority if they want to win this game. You won’t win many games without defense. 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 were outworked by the more physical Bulls on Monday and they need to play harder and they have to outwork the Suns in this one if they want to get a win.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics have to move the ball and find the open man. They can’t lapse into hero ball as that rarely ends well. The Suns average 27.2 assists per game, showing that they move the ball very well. The Celtics are averaging just 23.4 assists per game but when they do share the ball and keep it moving, they usually get a win. They also have to limit their turnovers as they have been turning it over way too much in recent games. The Suns average 15.8 points off turnovers and if the Celtics get sloppy and careless with the ball, the Suns will make them pay.
Home Game - The Celtics are at home where they should get a boost from the home crowd (even though it’s not a full crowd). They need to focus on the game and gain motivation from having the fans behind them. The Suns are playing in the 3rd game of a 5 game road trip and should be dealing with the distractions of travel and the fatigue of back to back games and that may give the Celtics a slight advantage.
Injuries - As I stated above, the Suns have been very lucky this season with injuries and so haven’t faced the adversity that the Celtics have with so many players out all season long. The Celtics may have 3 players out and one or two who aren’t 100%. It goes without saying that if Brown can play, the Celtics will have a better chance of winning. Hopefully the Suns will underestimate the undermanned Celtics.
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.