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Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics Game #66 3/6/22

The Celtics close out their homestand with a visit from Kyrie Irving and the Nets.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics complete their three-game homestand with a visit from the Brooklyn Nets in a Sunday matinee. This is the fourth and final meeting between these two teams this season. The Nets won the first game 123-104 in Boston on November 24. The Celtics won the next two games in Brooklyn: 126-91 on 2/8 and 129-106 on 2/24. The Celtics are 133-73 all-time against the Nets and 71-33 in games played in Boston.

The Celtics have moved up to 5th in the East. They have won their last 2 games and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 22-11 at home. They are 27-16 against other Eastern Conference teams and 8-6 against Atlantic Division opponents. The Celtics are 1.5 games behind 3rd place Milwaukee and 4th place Chicago. They are 2 games behind 2nd place Philadelphia. They are 1 game ahead of 6th place Cleveland and 3 games ahead of 7th place Toronto.

The Nets are 8th in the East. They have lost their last 3 games and are 3-7 in their last 10 games. They are 19-14 on the road. They are 22-17 against other Eastern Conference teams and 7-5 against Atlantic Division opponents. The Nets are 2.5 games behind 7th place Toronto, 4.5 games behind 6th place Cleveland and 5.5 games behind 5th place Boston. They are half a game ahead of 9th place Atlanta, 1 game ahead of 10th place Charlotte, and 3 games ahead of 11th place Washington and the lottery.

The Nets have looked different each time the Celtics have played them. They have used 35 different starting lineups this season with 18 players getting at least one start. On 11/24, they started Harden, Mills, Durant, Bambry and Aldridge. On 2/8, they started Mills, Brown, Bembry, Edwards and Griffin. On 2/24, they started Mills, Curry, Brown, Johnson and Drummond. Kevin Durant returned on Thursday from a 21 game absence and should be available for this game. Kyrie Irving missed all 3 of the games so far, but should be available for this game.

The Celtics are finishing up a 3 game home stand. They will play at Charlotte on Wednesday, after a 2 day break and then will return to Boston for home games against Detroit and Dallas. They will then head out on a 4 game western road trip. This is the first of a 3 game road trip for Brooklyn which will also include Charlotte and Philadelphia. They will return home to face the Knicks before a road game against the Magic.

Jaylen Brown (ankle) has been upgraded to questionable for this game. I’m thinking positively and including Jaylen in the starting lineup. Aaron Nesmith (ankle), who started Thursday’s game in Brown’s place, is listed as out for this game. If Brown can’t play, then I’m guessing that Derrick White will get the start, or if Ime wants to keep the bench rotation intact, I’m not sure who he will turn to. Seth Curry is listed as probable with ankle soreness. Joe Harris is out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Ben Simmons is out after having some back soreness during his reconditioning process.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III

Celtics Reserves
Payton Pritchard
Grant Williams
Derrick White
Daniel Theis
Luke Kornet
Sam Hauser
Malik Fitts (10 day)
Kelan Martin (10 day)
Nick Stauskas

Injuries
Jaylen Brown (ankle) questionable
Aaron Nesmith (ankle) out

Two-Way Players
Brodric Thomas
Matt Ryan

Head Coach
Ime Udoka

Probable Nets Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Seth Curry
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Bruce Brown
C: Andre Drummond

Nets Reserves
LaMarcus Aldridge
Nic Claxton
Goran Dragic
Blake Griffin
James Johnson
Patty Mills
Day’Ron Sharpe
Cam Thomas

Injuries
Seth Curry (ankle) probable
Joe Harris (ankle) out
Ben Simmons (back) out

Two Way Players
David Duke, Jr
Kessler Edwards

Head Coach
Steve Nash

Key Matchups

Jayson Tatum vs Kevin Durant
This is Durant’s 2nd game back after a 21 game absence with a knee injury. He scored 31 points in his first game back and so we know he hasn’t missed a step in his return. He is averaging 29.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. He is shooting 51.9% from the field and 36.9% from beyond the arc. Jayson has been playing very well in recent games and the Celtics will need a big game from him on both ends of the court in this one.

Marcus Smart vs Kyrie Irving
Irving has been playing in the Nets’ road games only so far this season. He hasn’t played in any of the games so far against the Celtics. He has been playing very well in the games he plays in. He is averaging 25.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He is shooting 45.9% from the field and 36.6% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to slow him down and keep him from having a big game.

Honorable Mention
Jaylen Brown vs Seth Curry
Curry is probable for this game and Brown is questionable. Curry is averaging 16.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He is shooting 47.2% from the field and 44.4% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to keep him from having a big game, especially from the perimeter.

Keys to the Game

Defense - Defense will always be the biggest key to winning. The Celtics have to continue to make defense their priority and their identity in order to keep winning. They have moved up to 2nd in the league with a defensive rating of 105.4. The Nets are just 23rd with a defensive rating of 112.0. The Nets as a team shoot very well both inside and outside. The Celtics won’t out-shoot the Nets and so they must play tough team defense if they hope to win.

Rebound - In order to score, the Celtics need the ball and to get the ball, they will need to crash the boards as a team. The Celtics average 46.3 rebounds per game while the Nets average 44.3 rebounds per game. Much of rebounding is effort and when the Celtics put out extra effort on the boards, it usually carries over into the rest of their game. The Celtics must come into the game determined to work hard and to hustle for every rebound.

Be Aggressive for 48 Minutes - The Celtics have to play with effort and energy for the entire game with no let up. They need to start strong and play hard throughout the game. They have to be aggressive when they go to the basket, when they go after rebounds, when they defend, and when they go after loose balls. They have to be the team that plays harder and that wants the game more.

Focus and Energy - The Celtics need to stay focused on making the right play. They have to take good shots and focus on hitting them. They need to be focused on making good passes and not get sloppy with the ball. They have to focus on handling the ball carefully and not turning it over. They have to focus on not missing defensive assignments. And they have to play with energy and not allow the Nets to play harder than them.

Bench Play - The Nets have a deep bench and they have players who can come in and hit big shots and make a difference. Goran Dragic, Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Claxton, and Blake Griffin can all make a difference on any given night. Dragic and Mills have had big games against the Celtics before. The Celtics reserves have to hold their own when the starters get a rest.

X-Factors Home Game - The Nets are a better road team than they are at home, mostly due to Kyrie Irving playing on the road and not at home. The Celtics have played well at home with a 22-11 record at the TD Garden. They need to feed off the energy of the crowd and hopefully, the Nets will be distracted by travel and the hostile crowd.

Celtics Pride - Kyrie Irving disrespected the Celtics by quitting on the team as he planned to sign with the Nets after saying that he planned to return to the Celtics. Then he came back to the TD Garden and went out of his way to stomp on Lucky at center court. The Celtics need to remember this and stomp on the Nets this time.

Officiating - The officiating is always an x-factor. Some referees call the game tight and others let them play. Some favor the home team and others call it evenly. At least they don’t have James Harden, who lives at the line. The Celtics have to play through whatever calls go against them and not allow bad calls or no calls to take away their focus on the game.

DraftKings

According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are a 4.5-point favorite at home. That line should move based on Jaylen Brown’s availability, but don’t be surprised if Boston is still the favored to win at TD Garden. They’ve taken the first two of this three-game homestand with little to no contributions from Brown against two postseason hopefuls and while the Nets are getting healthy and whole, the Celtics have already gone through their growing pains and are now inflicting them onto their opponents.

From a Nets’ perspective, there are just so many variables. Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant, but he’s coming off a long stint on the injury. Even though he didn’t seem to miss a beat on Thursday night in a loss to the Heat with 31 points on 10-of-21 shooting in just over 35 minutes, he missed 22 of 23 games since January 12th. There’s obviously the Kyrie-back-in-Boston narrative to consider, too. He’s looked great in the fifteen games he’s played so far, but he’s only played in one game in the last three weeks; of course, he scored 38 in a road win against the defending champs. Goran Dragić has looked rusty after missing nearly the entire season, but he was notoriously a Celtics killer in a Heat jersey.

The Celtics, on the other hand, have been the picture of consistency since the new year. They’ve had far and away the best defense in 2022 with a 102.7 defensive rating including holding the Hawks and Grizzlies, two of the league’s best offenses, to 98 and 107 points respectively this week. In two Nets blowouts in February, Brooklyn averaged just 98.5 points per game. The offense has steadily improved through the year and through thirteen games in February and March, they’re a top-8 team with a 117.2 offensive rating.

If it comes down to a duel between Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum, I’ll take Tatum at TD Garden. Since starting in the All-Star Game for KD, JT is averaging 30 points on over 45% shooting from the field. He’s been aggressively driving more and become more of a playmaker in the second half of the season. As head coach Ime Udoka told NBA Today’s Malika Andrews on Friday, “he’s a bucket and he can get 30 in his sleep.” The Sunday matinee tipoff shouldn’t be a problem then.

Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.

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