The Celtics reach the end of their 4 game Western road trip with a visit to the San Antonio Spurs. The Celtics lost the first two games on their road trip to the Denver Nuggets, who are first in the West, and to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are 13th in the West. The Celtics then defeated the Dallas Mavericks, ending their 7 game win streak. This is the first of 2 meetings between these two teams this season. They will play again in Boston on March 26.
The Celtics are 1st in the East, 1 game ahead of the 2nd place Brooklyn Nets and 2 games ahead of the 3rd place Milwaukee Bucks, who lost by 29 points to the Hornets on Friday. The Celtics are 12-7 on the road and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They won their last game after losing the first two games on the road trip. They are 12-4 against Western Conference opponents.
The Spurs are 14th in the Western Conference. They are 4 games behind 13th place Oklahoma Cityand 2.5 games ahead of the last place Houston Rockets. They are 8-13 at home and 3-7 in their last 10 games. They had lost 3 straight games before beating the Pistons on Friday. They are 8-6 against Eastern Conference opponents.
The Spurs are playing on the second night of back to back games. They faced the Detroit Pistons at home on Wednesday. They are 1-6 on in the second of back to back games. The Celtics lost the series 0-2 last season. They are 43-56 overall all time against the Spurs and 21-28 in games played in San Antonio. The last time they played in San Antoinio, Derrick White was the Spurs starting shooting guard.
The Celtics have just Danilo Gallinari on the injury list as he rehabs from the torn ACL he suffered in the off season. The Spurs had just Devin Vassell on their injury list on Friday but have added Jakob Poeltl with an Achilles injury and Keldon Johnson with a hamstring injury. Going by their depth chart I’ll guess that Zach Collins starts for Poeltl and Doug McDermott starts for Johnson.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Al Horford
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Head Coach (Interim)
Probable Spurs Starters
PG: Tre Jones
SG: Romeo Langford
SF: Doug McDermott
PF: Jeremy Sochan
C: Zach Collins
Two Way Players
Devin Vassell (knee) out
Jakob Poeltl (Achilles) out
Keldon Johnson (hamstring) out
Derrick White vs Romeo Langford
When these two teams last met in San Antonio, Derrick White started at shooting guard and Romeo Langford was a Celtic. We all know that when players face their former teams they somehow become super stars. Langford is averaging 6.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.0 assists. He is shooting 49.6% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to be ready for his best shot.
Marcus Smart vs Tre Jones
Jones is averaging 12.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He is shooting 43.8% from the field and but just 27.6% from beyond the arc. The Celtics have to guard him for the pass as well as the shot and also be careful around him because he is a threat to make a steal.
Al Horford vs Zach Collins
It’s just a guess that Collins will get the start in place of Poeltl. Collins is averaging 9.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists. He is shooting 55.7% from the field and 38.6% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to stay with him especially in the paint to prevent rebounds and put backs.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the most important key to winning games. The Celtics have strayed from their defensive identity of last season but they have shown glimpses of returning to that defense at times this season. The Celtics are 7th with a defensive rating of 111.1 while the Spurs are 30th with a defensive rating of 119.2. The Celtics have to especially defend in the paint since the Spurs are 8th with 53.9 points in the paint per game. The Celtics need to make defense a priority and play tough team defense in every game and not let up.
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 6th in the league with 15.9 second chance points per game. The Celtics are averaging 43.9 rebounds per game while the Spurs are averaging 42.6 rebounds per game. Rebounding takes effort and when the Celtics put forth the extra effort on the boards, that tends to spread to other areas of the game as well.
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. They have allowed teams like the Magic and Thunder to play harder than them and lost to teams they should have easily beat. They should not make that mistake again.
Play the Right Way - The Celtics need to move the ball to find the best shot. When they play hero ball and don’t keep the ball moving, the Celtics are easy to beat. But, when they keep the ball moving and move without the ball, they are very tough to beat. They need to focus on playing defense and having each others backs. They need to crash the boards and box out. They need to focus on taking and making good shots. If the 3’s aren’t falling, take the ball to the basket. Play with focus and with energy.
Don’t Underestimate - The Celtics have faced several of the bottom teams and lost to them because they came out and played with very little effort, expecting an easy win, but instead got the best shot from a young team. They have lost to the Magic twice, the Pacers, and the SGA-less Thunder, all of whom they should have beaten. The Spurs are a bottom team and also missing three of their top players. The Celtics can’t relax as they did before the Thunder game or they will once again suffer a loss in a game they should easily win with a little effort.
Road Game - The Celtics are playing on the road once again. Travel and staying in hotels can be a distraction and can also take a toll on players. Playing in front of a hostile crowd can also be a distraction, especially for younger players. The Celtics have to put all of those distractions aside and focus on playing their game. The last game of a road trip is always a tough one.
Coaching - Gregg Popovich is considered by most to be one of the best coaches in the league. Joe Mazzulla has been a college assistant coach for 7 years and spent 1 year as an assistant with the Red Claws and 3 years as an assistant with the Celtics. This is his first year as a head coach. Ime Udoka lost both games to the Spurs last season. Can Joe Mazzulla do better this season? Matchups and coaching strategy chould come into play in this game.
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 the right way and not get distracted by the bad calls and no calls.