The Celtics host the San Antonio Spurs for the second and final regular season meeting between these two teams this season. The Celtics lost 110-106 on January 27 in San Antonio. These two teams split the series last season with each team winning on the road. The Celtics have quite a few young players on their team, but the Spurs have the youngest roster in franchise history since Popovich took over as coach.
Both of these teams last played on Wednesday. The Celtics snapped a 3 game losing streak with a win at home against the Charlotte Hornets. After they went on a 6 game win streak, they have won just 2 of their last 6 games. The Spurs had a 3 game win streak snapped with a loss on Wednesday to the Miami Heat.
The Celtics are 6th in the East, tied with the 7th place Miami Heat. They still have two huge games remaining against the Heat. They are 2.5 games ahead of the Charlotte Hornets (8th). They are 2 games behind New York (4th) and 1 game behind Atlanta (5th). The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games and 20-12 at home. They are 14-13 vs Western teams.
The Spurs are 9th in the West, tied with the 8th place Memphis Grizzlies. They are 2.5 games behind Portland (7th) and 3 games behind Dallas (6th). They are just half a game ahead of the 10th place Warriors and 4.5 games ahead of New Orleans (11th). They are 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are better on the road (18-11) than they are at home (13-19). They are 15-10 against Eastern teams.
The Celtics have come close to being at full strength but just can’t quite seem to make it. Robert Williams finally returned to the lineup on Wednesday, but Kemba Walker went out with a side strain and is out for this game as well. Robert Williams came off the bench on Wednesday and I’m not sure if he will do so in this game or go back to the starting five.
For the Spurs, Derrick White went out on Monday with a severely sprained ankle and will likely miss the rest of the season. Devin Vassell started at the point in his place on Wednesday and will likely do so again in this game. Trey Lyles is also expected to be out with an ankle injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Evan Fournier
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Tristan Thompson
Robert Williams III
Kemba Walker (side) out
Probable Spurs Starters
PG: Devin Vassell
SG: DeJounte Murray
SF: DeMar DeRozan
PF: Keldon Johnson
C: Jakob Poeltl
Lonnie Walker IV
Derrick White (ankle) out
Trey Lyles (ankle) out
Jaylen Brown vs DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is leading the Spurs with 21.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game. He is shooting 49.4% from the field and 25.4% from beyond the arc. Jaylen has been playing very well for the Celtics and they will need him to play well on both ends of the court in this game.
Evan Fournier vs Dejounte Murray
Murray is averaging 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. I’m guessing that Fournier will get the start once again if Kemba, who is doubtful, can’t play. Fournier is still struggling somewhat since returning from a long covid absence. It would be a great time for him to find his rhythm once again.
Bench vs Bench
The Spurs bench is 7th in points per game with 37.9 points per game. They are also 4th in 3 pointers made per game. The Celtics often struggle when their reserves take the court and they need to get some production from them in this game, especially on defense, to slow the Spurs reserves down.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins games and so the Celtics need to make defense a priority. The Celtics are 13th with a defensive rating of 111.3 while the Spurs are 10th with a defensive rating of 110.7 Since they are very close on offense with the Celtics averaging 112.6 points per game and the Spurs averaging 110.7 points per game, defense will likely decide the winner of this game.
Rebound - The Celtics can’t score if they don’t have the ball, and they will struggle if they give up second chance points to the Spurs. The Celtics are averaging 44.4 rebounds per game while the Spurs are averaging 44.0 rebounds per game. Rebounding takes effort and when the Celtics put forth the extra effort on the boards, that tends to spread to other areas of the game as well.
Play Team Ball - The Celtics play best when they move the ball and find the open man. They have to play TEAM ball and share the ball and no player should try to do too much or play hero ball. They also need to commit to play team defense. The Celtics best games this season have been games in which they have had 26 or more assists per game. The Celtics must commit to moving the ball and to playing together.
Focus - In the Celtics recent losses, they didn’t seem to be focused. They have turned the ball over way too much. They also struggled to score the ball, shooting just 38% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc against Charlotte on Sunday and 42% from the field and 22% from beyond the arc against the Thunder on Tuesday. They shot an incredible 49 threes and made only 11 of them. If they continue to struggle from the perimeter, they need to go inside instead of continuing to shoot 3 point bricks. They need to focus and make their shots, and they need to take care of the ball.
Sense of Urgency - The Celtics have been passive in their past 3 losses. They showed some urgency against the Hornets on Wednesday and got the win. In their losses, they allowed teams to play harder than them resulting in losing games they should have won. Even bad teams that play hard can beat good teams that don’t and that is what has been happening to the Celtics in their recent losses. They need to take every game seriously and realize that if they don’t, they may end up in the play-in tournament and out of the playoffs altogether. They are just a Celtics loss or a Heat win from falling into the play in tournament. They have shown flashes of playing well but then go right back to being lethargic. Somehow, they have to consistently be the more aggressive team.
Home Game - The Celtics are at home once again. They have their fans there to cheer them on and give them added motivation. The Spurs are playing in the final game of a 4 game road trip. Usually the final game is tough because the team is tired of being on the road and ready to get home. However, the Spurs are a better road team than they are at home so it could go either way.
Coaching - Gregg Popovich is considered by many to be the best coach in the league. Brad Stevens is considered to be one of the best young coaches in the league and the heir apparent to Popovich’s crown. Matchups and coaching strategy should come into play in this game. Will master or pupil come out on top?
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Sometimes you don’t even notice the refs but other times, they very clearly make their presence known. Every crew calls the game differently and players never know what to expect. Sometimes they call it tight with a foul for every little bit of contact. Sometimes they let the teams play and allow them to be physical. Players need to adjust to how the game is being called and not allow the officiating to take their focus off of playing their game. And they definitely don’t need to complain after every play.