The Celtics travel to Brooklyn to take on the Nets for the third and final time this season. The Celtics lost to the Nets 123-95 on Christmas Day. They lost a second game to the Nets 121-109 on March 11. They played in Boston on Christmas and in Brooklyn in March. These two teams were 2-2 last season with each team winning one at home and one on the road.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games after pulling out a big win against the 2nd place Phoenix Suns at home on Thursday. The Celtics are 5-6 on the second night of back to back games. They are 1-2 when the games are home/road. The Nets are playing in the 3rd game in 4 nights, having played Tuesday and Wednesday at New Orleans and Toronto.
The Celtics are 6th in the East, half a game behind the 4th place Knicks. They are tied with Atlanta (5th) and 1 game ahead of Miami (7th). They are 3.5 games ahead of Charlotte with 2 games against the Hornets coming up this week. The Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10 games and 13-16 on the road. They are looking for their second straight win.
The Nets are 2nd in the East and 5th overall in the league. They are half a game behind the first place Philadelphia 76ers. They are 3 games ahead of the 3rd place Milwaukee Bucks. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 23-7 at home. They are coming off a loss, but could get Kevin Durant back for this game or for their game on Sunday vs the Suns.
Both Robert Williams (knee) has been ruled out for this game. Danny Ainge said that he is very close and could play again soon. Jaylen Brown missed Thursday’s game with bursitis in his shoulder and is also out for this game. Kemba Walker will be out for rest, as he has been in back to back games this season. Evan Fournier was not listed on the official injury report and so I’m hoping we will get to see him in this one, even if he is on a minutes restriction.
The Nets have a long list of players out. In spite of using 35 different starting lineups this season, they still have been able to keep winning. For this game, Nicolas Claxton and Reggie Perry are both out due to health and safety protocols. Chris Chiozza is out after surgery on his hand. James Harden remains out with a hamstring injury. Spencer Dinwiddie is out for the season after tearing his ACL. Tyler Johnson is doubtful with a knee injury. Finally, Kevin Durant is questionable with a thigh bruise but Steve Nash expects him to play this weekend, either in this game or on Sunday vs the Suns.
Probable Celtics Starters
Kemba Walker (rest) out
Robert Williams III (knee) out
Jaylen Brown (shoulder) out
Probable Nets Starters
Chris Chiozza (hand) out
Nicolas Claxton (covid) out
Spencer Dinwiddie (knee) out
James Harden (hamstring) out
Tyler Johnson (knee) doubtful
Reggie Perry (covid) out
Kevin Durant (thigh) questionable
Marcus Smart vs Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving is averaging 27.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.2 assists. He is shooting 51.3% from the field and 39.1% from beyond the arc. He is capable of putting up a lot of points as evidenced by his 40 point game against the Celtics in March. He also seems to try harder against the Celtics and will likely do so in this game as well. With Kemba sitting on back to back games, Marcus Smart will likely move up to point guard.
Semi Ojeleye vs Joe HarrisHarris is averaging 14.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. He is shooting 51.5% from the field and 48.2% from beyond the arc. With Jaylen out, I’m making a wild guess that Brad will start Semi here. But then again, he may start just about anybody.
Jayson Tatum vs Jeff Green
Jeff Green is averaging 10.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. He is shooting 44.3% from the field and 33.7% from beyond the arc. Kevin Durant may return for this one and if he does, he will likely pick up right from where he left off, shooting lights out.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Nets are 25th with a defensive rating of 113.2 while the Celtics are 13th with a defensive rating of 111.6. The Celtics must make defense a priority as the Nets are second in the league in scoring with 118.8 points per game and the Celtics will not win a shoot out with them. The Nets are 1st in the league, shooting 49.4% from the field and 4th in 3 point percentage with 38.9%. The Celtics must play tough defense both inside and on the perimeter.
Rebound - Along with defense, rebounding is a key to winning. You have to have the ball to score and one way to get the ball is to grab rebounds. Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics need to put out the extra effort to beat the Nets to the rebounds. Both teams are averaging a little over 44 rebounds per game. The Celtics need to crash the boards and beat the Nets to the rebounds.
Play Team Ball - When the Celtics move the ball and find the open man they are tough to beat but when they lapse into hero ball, they struggle. The Nets are averaging 26.7 assists per game and that shows that they thrive on ball movement and trusting each other. The Celtics are averaging 23.4 assists per game and they need to move the ball more. When the Celtics have high assist totals they usually win and they play well. When they have fewer than 20 assists per game, they usually lose. They must trust each other and play team ball.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics seem to go through periods in the game where they turn the ball over one possession after the other. They need to be more careful with their passes and also avoid dribbling into double teams. They need to be less careless when dribbling as well. They had 20 turnovers against the Suns and that is way too many.
Who’s Playing - Both teams have key players who may or may not play in this one. If Durant is out, advantage Celtics. If Brown is out, advantage Nets. They Celtics will miss Kemba, especially after his big game on Thursday but hopefully others can pick up the slack and help the Celtics get a win in this one.
Revenge Factor and Fatigue - The Celtics lost to the Nets on the national stage on Christmas Day. They also lost to the Nets in March. This game is also on National TV and the Celtics should come out with a chip on their shoulders looking to avenge the two losses. Both teams are playing short handed and while the Celtics are playing back to back, the Nets are playing in their 3rd game in 4 nights and fatigue could come into play, especially down the stretch.
Officiating - Just as defense will always be a key to the game, officiating can always be an x-factor. NBA officiating is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates - you never know what you are going to get. They got a fairly friendly whistle against the Suns and so they need to be ready to get a less than friendly whistle in this one. The Celtics have to adjust to however the officials are calling the game.