The Celtics look to even the series at 2 games each as they host the Brooklyn Nets in front of a full crowd for the first time this season. The crowd of just 25% capacity on Friday was loud and gave the team a boost. However, it will be great for the Celtics to have 100% capacity for this game and the crowd should be electric as they cheer on their team and boo the enemy.
The Nets won the first game 104-93. The Celtics got off to a good start and led by 12 early and led by 6 at the half. The Nets surged ahead at the end to take the first game. The second game was the opposite with the Celtics trailing by 14 after the first quarter and down by 24 at the half. They never were able to come close in that game and lost 130-108.
Game 3 was a totally different story with the Celtics winning 125-119. The Nets got out to a 19-4 lead and it looked like they were on their way to a 3-0 lead. The Celtics, however, had a different idea and found their fight that has been missing in the first two games. They played defense and played physical. Jayson Tatum was huge in this game with 50 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals. Marcus Smart (23 points), Evan Fournier (17 points) and Tristan Thompson (19 points, 13 rebounds) all played hard and had good games. Kemba Walker struggled with his shot with just 6 points on 3-14 shooting, but he played defense and pulled down 8 rebounds.
Kemba Walker was questionable going into Game 3 with a bone bruise on his left knee. He ended up playing that game, but struggled in it. He is once again listed as questionable for this game and will be a game time decision. I have included him in the starters once again as I have no idea what Brad would do to fill his spot in the starting lineup if he is unable to go. There are several different options and it’s hard to say which one he would choose. Hopefully, though, Kemba will be able to play.
Robert Williams left early in Game 3 with an ankle sprain added to the turf toe that he has been playing through. He is listed as doubtful for this game and, like Kemba, his status will be a game time decision. Jaylen Brown remains out after surgery on his wrist. For the Nets, Spencer Dinwiddie (knee) and Jeff Green (foot) remain out.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Evan Fournier
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Tristan Thompson
Jaylen Brown (wrist) out
Kemba Walker (knee) questionable
Robert Williams (ankle) doubtful
Probable Nets Starters
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: James Harden
SF: Joe Harris
PF: Kevin Durant
C: Blake Griffin
Spencer Dinwiddie (knee) out
Jeff Green (foot) out
Jayson Tatum vs Kevin Durant
Durant averaged 29 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 48.6% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc in the first two games. In Game 3, he had 39 points, 9 rebounds and 1 assist shooting 54% from the field and 44 % from beyond the arc. Tatum averaged just 15.5 points on 28.1% shooting from the field in the first two games and, after being questionable for game 3 due to being poked in the eye by Durant, he had 50 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals in Game 3. Hopefully Tatum will once again bring the fight and hopefully limit Durant a bit more in this one.
Kemba Walker vs Kyrie Irving
In the first two games, Kyrie was the Nets’ leader, hitting big shots when they needed them. He averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 53.1% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc in the two games in Brooklyn. As the series shifted to Boston and Kyrie was faced with just 25% capacity of Celtics fans, he struggled to put up 16 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists, shooting just 35% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc. Hopefully Kemba will be able to play in this game and will not struggle with a sore knee in this game. It will be interesting to see how Kyrie follows up that game, in front of a full capacity crowd this time.
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
Harden averaged 20.5 points, 7 rebounds and 7.5 assists on 44% shooting from the field and 37.5% from beyond the arc in the first two games. Harden had 41 points, 7 rebounds and 10 assists in game 3. He also shot 61% from the field and 58% from beyond the arc. Marcus Smart has played very well in all 3 games and they will need Smart’s defense along with his taking good shots when he is open and finding the open man when he isn’t.
Keys to the Game
Defense - As always, defense is the key to winning this game. The Celtics won’t win a shoot out with the Nets as they simply have too much firepower. The Celtics must up their defensive intensity and focus on getting stops. Durant and Harden both shot well in Game 3, but the Celtics limited everyone else. The Nets have definitely upped their defense from the regular season and the Celtics must increase their defensive intensity even more if they have any chance at winning this game.
Rebound - Rebounding is also a big key to winning. The Celtics allowed the Nets to out-rebound them in the first two games of this series but in Game 3, the Celtics upped their efforts on the boards and out-rebounded the Nets 46-37. Much of rebounding is effort and hustle and we finally saw that effort and hustle from the Celtics in Game 3. The Celtics have to increase their effort on the boards even more to win the rebounding battle in this game.
Be Aggressive - The Nets were the more aggressive and more physical team in the first two games of the series. After the first 4 minutes of Game 3, the Celtics picked up their intensity and their aggressiveness and out-played the Nets the rest of the way. The Celtics have to be more aggressive in driving to the basket, in diving for loose balls, in grabbing rebounds, in defending and just more aggressive overall. They can’t let the Nets play harder or more physical. They have to play like the team that wants it more once again.
Move and Move the Ball - The Celtics have to run on every possession and not walk the ball up the court. They have to move without the ball in order to keep the Nets defense off balance and they need to move the ball to find the best shot. In the first quarter of game 2, the Nets had 12 assists to just 1 for the Celtics. For the game, the Nets had 31 assists while the Celtics finished with 23. Ball movement and player movement is a big key for both teams. The Nets had just 16 assists in Game 3 with many of their baskets coming in isolation. Hopefully, in this game, the Celtics can keep the Nets from moving the ball while keeping the ball moving themselves.
Get to the Basket - The Celtics did a great job of getting into the paint and getting to the basket in Game 3. They outscored the Nets in the paint 36-30 and had 13 second chance points to just 5 for the Nets. The Celtics need to take 3’s when they are open, but they also need to drive to the basket and draw fouls if they aren’t. They also need to defend the paint on the other end to keep the Nets from getting easy points at the basket.
Full House - The Celtics played the first two games in front of a sell out very hostile Nets crowd. The Celtics were at home for Game 3, with just a 25% capacity crowd. They will have a 100% capacity crowd for this one and I expect the crowd to be loud and make themselves known. The Nets are mostly veteran players and they aren’t usually as affected by playing on the road as are the younger players. The Celtics should get a boost and some motivation from a full crowd of their fans for the first time this season.
Coaching - Once again, one of the few advantages that the Celtics have is that Brad Stevens has been in the playoffs before while this is Steve Nash’s first time. In the playoffs, coaches have to make adjustments between games and find ways to counter the other team’s game plan. I believe Brad out-coached Nash in Game 3 and hopefully he will do it once again in this game.
Officiating - Officiating is always an X-factor. Will the officials call the game tight and call every little bit of contact? Will they let them play and allow them to be a bit physical? Will they call it evenly and not favor one team over the other? Will the home team get an advantage? However they call the game, the Celtics must focus on playing the game and not on bad calls or no calls. (or terribly overturned calls)