The Celtics look to once again get back to .500 as they host the San Antonio Spurs. This is the second and final game between these two teams. The Spurs won the first game 96-88 in San Antonio on November 26. The Celtics and Spurs tied the series 1-1 last season with each team winning at home. The Celtics finally are getting healthy and have a stretch of games that they should win. If they can find some consistency and play hard in each of them they should be able to get over .500 again and stay there.
The Spurs have lost their last 4 games including a 129-104 loss to the Raptors on Tuesday night. They are playing on the second night of back to back games after having to travel from Toronto to get to Boston overnight. The Spurs are 3-2 in the second of back to back games and they are 1-1 when both games are on the road. The Celtics are playing in the first of back to back games and will travel to New York to take on the Knicks on Thursday.
The Spurs are playing in the 4th game of a 7 game road trip. The Celtics are playing the 4th and final game of a 4 game home stand. The Celtics are 41-57 all time against the Spurs and they are 22-27 all time in Boston. The Spurs are one of only two teams that have a winning record against the Celtics all time. The other team is the New Orleans Pelicans, who are 21-20 against the Celtics all time.
The Celtics are 10th in the East and have won their last 2 games after having lost 3 in a row. They are 11-7 at home and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 6-9 against Western Conference teams. The Spurs are 11th in the West. They have lost their last 4 games. They are 7-12 on the road and they are 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are 6-7 against Eastern Conference teams.
Both teams are getting healthier after having a lot of players out for covid and injury. For the Celtics, Jayson Tatum, Aaron Nesmith, and Enes Freedom returned to practice after being out in the health and safety protocols. All are available for this game after participating in Tuesday’s practice. Robert Williams also was able to practice on Tuesday and is available for this game. Romeo Langford is available after missing Sunday’s game with a non-covid illness. Jabari Parker is available after having some dental work done. Brodric Thomas is out with a back injury. Finally, a new addition to the list is Payton Pritchard who has entered the health and safety protocols.
For the Spurs, Dejounte Murray is expected to return to the team after missing the last 5 games in the health and safety protocols. Zach Collins is out with an ankle injury. Lonnie Walker IV and Doug McDermott are both listed as out as they went into the health and safety protocols on January 1. I’ve listed the probable starting lineups for both teams, including the players who are expected to return from injury and from health and safety protocols.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Brodric Thomas (back) out
Payton Pritchard (covid) out
Jabari Parker (dental work) available
Romeo Langford (non-covid illness) available
Robert Williams III (toe) available
Jayson Tatum (conditioning) available
Aaron Nesmith (conditioning) available
Enes Freedom (conditioning) available
Probable Spurs Starters
PG: DeJounte Murray
SG: Derrick White
SF: Devin Vassell
PF: Keldon Johnson
C: Jakob Poeltl
Zach Collins (ankle) out
Doug McDermott (covid) out
Lonnie Walker IV (covid) out
Devontae Cacok (conditioning) out
Dejounte Murray (conditioning) available
Marcus Smart vs Dejounte Murray
Murray is averaging 17.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game. He is shooting 43.8% from the field and 34.1% from beyond the arc. He is just returning from the health and safety protocols so that even though the Spurs are playing back to back, Murray should be well rested. He finished the 11/26 game with 29 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. He is capable of putting up big numbers if not defended well.
Jaylen Brown vs Derrick White
White is averaging 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He is shooting 42.3% from the field and just 29.0% from beyond the arc. In the first meeting between these teams he finished with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Jaylen is coming off a 50 point game but will once again be playing along side Jayson Tatum and hopefully he continues to shoot and play well in this game.
Al Horford vs Keldon Johnson
Johnson has been playing small forward with players out over the last 5 or 6 games but on Tuesday, he played power forward and I expect him to play that position again in this game. He is averaging 15.0 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. He is shooting 45.8% from the field and 44.9% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to stay with him both in the paint and on the perimeter because he can score inside ans is also one of the Spurs better 3 point shooters.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the most important key to winning games. The Celtics are 7th with a defensive rating of 107.3 while the Spurs are 16th with a defensive rating of 108.9 The Celtics are averaging 108.1 points per game (15th) and the Spurs averaging 111.5 points per game (5th). Defense will likely decide the winner of this game because the Celtics aren’t likely to win a shoot out with the Spurs.
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, who are 7th in the league with 14.6 second chance points per game. The Celtics are averaging 46.1 rebounds per game while the Spurs are averaging 46.0 rebounds per game. Rebounding takes effort and when the Celtics put out the extra effort on the boards, that tends to spread to other areas of their game as well.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics need to move the ball to find the open man. The Celtics can’t lapse into iso ball and over dribbling because things rarely end well when they do. But, they have to make good passes and take care of the ball as they don’t want to turn the ball over. The Spurs average 16.3 points per game off turnovers and they will make the Celtics pay if they get careless. The Celtics had 21 turnovers against the Magic in their last game and although they won that game, they won’t win many if they turn the ball over that much.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics need to play hard and be the more aggressive team. They have to go after rebounds, loose balls, and 50/50 balls. They have to be aggressive on defense and in getting to the basket. They have to be the team that works harder and wants it more. The Spurs were the team that were more aggressive and that played harder in the first meeting between these two teams, the Celtics have to turn it around and be the more aggressive team and play harder in this game.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have to start off strong and then play hard throughout the game until the final buzzer. They can’t let up if they get ahead and they can’t afford to start off slow and get behind. They will need consistent effort from start to finish from both the starters and the reserves if they want to beat the Spurs. The Celtics must find some consistency to play all out for 48 minutes every game.
Home Game and Road Fatigue - The Spurs are playing in their 4th straight road game with 3 more on the road to come after this one. They are playing in the 4th game in 6 nights and are playing back to back along with having to travel from Toronto over night. The Celtics are playing in their 4th straight home game. The Spurs will likely be feeling some fatigue from travel and being on the road. The Celtics need to take advantage of having the crowd behind them and from playing in the friendly confines of the TD Garden.
Coaching - Gregg Popovich is considered by most to be one of the best coaches in the league. Ime Udoka spent many years learning under him on Popovich’s staff. Matchups and coaching strategy could come into play in this game. Will master or pupil come out on top in this second game between their two teams.
Officiating - Officiating is always an X-Factor. Every crew officiates differently and teams need to adjust to the way the game is called. Will they call the game evenly or favor the home team? Will they call it tight or let them play? Hopefully we get fair officiating and they let them play and the Celtics focus on playing and not on the officiating.