The Celtics begin a 6 game road trip with a stop in Brooklyn to take on the Atlantic Division rival Nets. The Celtics won the series between these two teams 3-1 last season with the Celtics only loss to them in Boston. The Celtics also swept the Nets in last year’s playoff 4-0. Kyrie Irving left the Celtics with hard feelings on both sides and even made a point to stomp on Lucky at center court after a playoff game.
The Celtics are first in the East, 1.5 games ahead of second place Milwaukee. They are 7-3 on the road and 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 2-0 against Atlantic division teams. They had won 5 straight games before losing on Friday to the Heat. The Nets are 6th in the East. They are 8-4 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 4-1 against Atlantic Division teams. They have won 4 straight.
The Celtics are playing on the first night of back to back games. They are 4-0 so far on the first night of back to back games and 1-0 when the first game is on the road. They ar 134-73 overall all time against the Nets. They are 62-40 all time on the road against the Nets. They are 10-9 in games played at the Barclays Center. Brooklyn is playing in the 5th game of a 7 game home stand. The Celtics are playing in the first game of a 6 game road trip.
Marcus Smart is listed as questionable for this game with a hip contusion. With this being the first of back to back games, the Celtics may rest him just to be cautious. If he sits, I expect Derrick White to start at the point and Grant Williams to replace Smart in the starting lineup. Robert Williams III and Danilo Gallinari remain out with the long term knee issues that have kept them out of the lineup so far this season.
For the Nets, Ben Simmons is expected to miss the game with a left lateral upper calf strain. He had started 5 straight games and was playing well before this latest injury. Edmond Sumner is out with a right glute contusion that he suffered in Wednesday’s game. Yuta Watanabe is out with a hamstring injury. Alondes Williams, who is a two way player, is out with a thigh injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Robert Williams III (knee) out
Marcus Smart (hip) questionable
Head Coach (Interim)
Probable Nets Starters
Two Way Players
David Duke, Jr
Ben Simmons (knee) out
Edmond Sumner (lower body) out
Yuta Watanabe (hamstring) out
Alondes Williams (thigh) out
Jayson Tatum vs Kevin Durant
If Marcus Smart is out, I expect Tatum to slide back to small forward but regardless, this is a matchup of two of the leagues best scorers. Durant is averaging 29.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.8 blocks per game. He is shooting 55.4% from the field and 34.5% from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum is averaging 30.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. He is shooting 47.9% from the field and 35.4% from beyond the arc. Tatum is coming off one of his worst games of the season and hopefully he shakes that off and gets back to playing good basketball.
Marcus Smart vs Kyrie Irving
Along with Durant, Kyrie Irving is a key to the Nets play. Irving is averaging 24.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.0 steals per game. He is shooting 48.2% from the field and 32.8% from beyond the arc. Kyrie still has a chip on his shoulder against the Celtics and will try his best to beat them. Kyrie and KD are both very dangerous scorers and so the Celtics must play tough defense on them to keep them from getting hot. If Smart is out, I’m guessing that Derrick White will start at the point.
Derrick White vs Joe Harris
This could be Derrick White or Jaylen Brown, depending on whether Marcus Smart plays and who Joe Mazzulla goes with to replace him in the starting lineup. Harris is averaging 8.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. He is shooting 39.2% from the field and 35.8% from beyond the arc. Harris is a career 43.8% 3 point shooter. He has led the league in 3 point percentage in 2 of his last 3 seasons. He can catch fire at any time if left open on the perimeter.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have been slowly climbing once again in the defensive ratings. They are 14th in the league with a defensive rating of 111.6. The Nets, however are right there with them at 15th in the league the league with a defensive rating of 112.2. The Celtics need to get a strong defensive effort from every player on the court and they need to get back to making defense a priority throughout every game.
Rebound - The Celtics must box out and crash the boards. They can’t score without the ball and it will take extra effort on their part beat the Nets on the boards. The Celtics are pulling down 42.8 rebounds per game, which is 25th in the league. The Nets are 28th with 37.2 rebounds per game. In their loss to the Heat, the Celtics allowed the Heat to grab 12 offensive rebounds for 21 second chance points. The Celtics have to put out more effort to get to the rebounds before the Nets and give themselves extra possessions.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics still go through periods where they turn the ball over too much and either allow their opponent to build a lead or allow them to come back from a deficit. They need to focus on making good passes and on not dribbling into a crowd. It’s hard to win a game when you give the opponent 20+ extra possessions by turning the ball over. The Celtics had 20 turnovers in their loss to the Heat and they have to stay focused and stop turning the ball over.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to come out and be aggressive right from the opening tip. They have to be aggressive on defense, driving to the basket, rebounding, diving for loose balls and just playing harder in general. They need to get off to a strong start and play hard right up until the final buzzer. They can’t let the Nets outwork them for any period of time. They allowed the Heat to play harder and be more aggressive than them and they can’t make that mistake again if they hope to win this game.
Road Game - The Celtics are playing in the first game of a 6 game road trip. They have had travel between Boston and Brooklyn and have had to stay in a hotel and will be playing in front of a hostile crowd. The Celtics need to focus on the game and not on the distractions of travel and playing in an unfamiliar arena in front of hostile fans. The Celtics need to stay focused and not allow the distractions of playing on the road keep them from playing their game.
Revenge - The Nets are going to be out for revenge in this game. The Celtics won the series 3-1 last season and then embarrassed them in the playoffs with a 4-0 sweep. Kyrie is looking to avenge whatever perceived wrongs he feels from the Celtics. I have no doubt that the Nets are going to play their best game to try to embarrass the Celtics in return for the playoff sweep.
Officiating - The officiating is always an x-factor. Sometimes a crew will call the game tight and blow a whistle on every play. Other times they will let them play and let the game get physical. The Celtics need to adjust to the way the game is called and not let missed calls or bad calls affect their focus. If the calls are bad, they just need to play harder to make up for them and not waste time arguing with the officials, especially since the refs have been quicker to call techs for complaining this season.