Early in the season when the Boston Celtics were still finding their identity, the Golden State Warriors were putting the league on notice. Steve Kerr’s team quickly jumped out to an 18-2 record and commanded the best defense in the league, along with the best net rating.
The Warriors continued their resurgence through the closing months of 2021, but then, Draymond Green suffered an injury, and everything changed. Struggling to re-integrate Klay Thompson, and missing their field general in Green, the Warriors began to slip, and have been treading water ever since.
Likewise, Boston is a totally different unit to the one that lost to that fell to the Warriors 107-111 in December. The Warriors' Big Three will all be suiting up for just the second time this season, which means we’re in for a competitive game between two very distinct brands of basketball.
- The rebounding battle
The Celtics rank fourth in rebounds for the season, averaging 46.3 per game, while the Warriors sit seventh. Interestingly, when you peel a layer off and look for which teams have a higher rebounding percentage, the Warriors fall to eight, but the Celtics drop down to 11th.
We’ve all seen Boston have some struggles controlling the glass against physical teams, so perhaps that’s part of the reason why their rebounding percentage is lower than their game-to-game average. Still, when you look at the two rosters heading into the game, you quickly notice the lack of size the Warriors have in the middle of the floor. Of course, James Wiseman would provide a strong presence down the center of the court, but he’s still working his way back after a prolonged injury absence and won’t feature in the contest.
If you weren't sure how big turnovers or defensive rebounding are...the Celtics shot 54.5% in their 1-point loss to Detroit Wednesday.— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) February 17, 2022
In the last 41 games Celtics shot 54% from the floor?
They'd been 40-1.
So, the Warriors are forced to rebound by committee - a term Celtics fans are all too familiar with. Still, we’ve seen Boston be successful with a team-centric rebounding philosophy in recent years, so we can’t expect the Celtics to dominate the glass just because they have Al Horford and Robert Williams.
Both teams like to push the pace in transition, so whichever team controls the defensive glass will have a greater chance of implementing their will throughout the contest.
2. Can the Celtics hang with, or limit, Golden State’s shooting
The Celtics' lack of elite shooters has been an issue all season, and the team ranks 23rd in three-point percentage as a result. So, we have a two-fold question heading into tonight’s game: can the Celtics limit Golden States' looks from deep, or can they sustain going shot-for-shot with one of the better three-point shooting teams in the league?
Stephen Curry is the obvious threat when discussing perimeter scoring, but Klay Thompson has been back in the Warriors rotation for a while now, and the Splash Brothers are only a good run away from being back to their dominant best. Luckily, the Celtics boast the best defense in the league and have numerous point-of-attack defenders that can switch onto Curry, Thompson, and Co.
The slight silver lining is that Andrew Wiggins, who leads the Warriors in three-point percentage this season, is listed as questionable on today’s injury report.
Wiggins still leads the Warriors in overall 3pt percentage for this season. He's the only Warriors shooting over 40% at 40.1%.— TheWarriorsTalk (@TheWarriorsTalk) March 15, 2022
Steph is second at 38.1%.
Since the turn of the year, the Celtics have ensured there are no easy shot attempts, and are happy to switch Horford and Williams onto the perimeter if they think it’s necessary. Running Williams as a free safety in tonight’s game might not pay as many dividends as usual, as running that scheme is primarily to provide help defense around the rim when opposing players are successful with their dribble-drive penetration. But, the Warriors are 27th in drives per game, so it may be more beneficial to have Williams switching onto the perimeter, rather than guarding the worst shooter on the floor to give him license to roam.
3. Secondary scoring
To paraphrase Marcus Smart, “teams know we’re trying to pass the ball to Jayson Tatum.” And the Warriors will undoubtedly look to trap the All-Star wing as high up the floor as possible, forcing the rest of the Celtics roster to beat them.
Against the Dallas Mavericks, Boston’s lack of shooting was exposed when they forced the ball out of Tatum’s hands early and often. Jaylen Brown and Grant Williams have both been slumping in recent games, but will need to snap out of it tonight. Over his last three games, Williams has hit just 9% of his threes, while Brown is hitting 17.2%.
Jaylen Brown is shooting 17.2% on threes over the last three games. Grant Williams is shooting 9.1% on threes over his last three games.— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) March 14, 2022
I mention this on today's podcast, but two vital cogs in the offense slumping at the same time is bound to have an effect. It happens.
Inefficient scoring isn’t going to cut it for Boston tonight, so they’re going to have to find ways to get their secondary scorers going. We’ve also seen some regression from Brown in his dribbling and passing, so running him as a play finisher tonight could be a great way of building his confidence and asking him to play to his strengths as a slasher and athletic rim finisher.
Regardless of the outcome, tonight’s game projects to be a memorable one if both teams play to their full potential, but make no mistake, the Celtics will have their work cut out if they want to get back to winning ways at the first time of asking.