The Celtics continue their home stand with a visit from Atlantic Division rivals, the Brooklyn Nets. This is the 3rd of 4 meetings between these two teams this season. The Celtics won the first game 103-92 in Brooklyn on December 4 and they won the second meeting 109-98, also in Brooklyn, on January 12. They will meet one more time in Boston on March 3.
The Celtics won the series between these two teams 3-1 last season with the Celtics only loss to them coming on Boston’s home court. The Celtics also swept the Nets in last year’s playoff 4-0. Kyrie Irving has a history with the Celtics as he 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 remain first in the East, although the margin over the second team is shrinking. The Celtics are 2 games ahead of 2nd place Milwaukee and 3 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia. They are 4.5 games ahead of 4th place Brooklyn. The Celtics are 20-5 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 20-11 against Eastern Conference opponent and 6-1 against Atlantic Division teams. They are looking for their second straight win, after losing their previous 3 games.
The Nets are 4th in the East. They went on a run where they won 12 in a row and 18 of 20 games but then Kevin Durant injured his knee and they have struggled without him. They are 1.5 games behind 2nd place Philadelphia and 6 games ahead of 7th place New York. They are 16-11 on the road and 4-6 in their last 10 games. They are 21-10 against Eastern Conference opponents and 6-4 against the Atlantic Division. They have won their last 2 games.
The Celtics are playing in the 3rd game of a 4 game home stand and will finish it up on Friday against the Suns. They will then have one game in Detroit before returning to the Garden for 3 more home games. The Nets just finished a 3 game home stand and will play at Boston before starting another 5 game home stand. The Celtics are 136-73 overall all time against the nets. They are 72-33 when playing in Boston.
Marcus Smart has missed the past 4 games after spraining his ankle in a game against the Raptors. He also has a bone bruise on the same ankle that he had a bone bruise on in the Eastern Conference Finals. He is expected to be out at least until February 8. Robert Williams missed Saturday’s game against the Lakers with an ankle sprain. He is considered questionable for this game and will be a game time decision. Danilo Gallinari remains out with a torn ACL. I’m thinking positively that Timelord will be back but if not, Grant Williams will likely start in his place.
For the Nets, Kevin Durant injured his knee on January 8 against the Heat, and will remain out for this game. Ben Simmons has missed 2 games with knee soreness and is listed as out for this game as well. TJ Warren missed the last 2 games with a lower leg injury and is also listed as out for this game. Yuta Watanabe is listed as probable with back tightness.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Derrick White
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Marcus Smart (ankle) out
Robert Williams (ankle) questionable
Head Coach (Interim)
Probable Nets Starters
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Seth Curry
SF: Joe Harris
PF: Royce O’Neale
C: Nic Claxton
Two Way Players
David Duke, Jr
Kevin Durant (knee) out
Ben Simmons (knee) out
TJ Warren (leg) out
Yuta Watanabe (back) probable
Derrick White vs Kyrie Irving
With Durant out, Kyrie Irving is key to the Nets play. Irving is averaging 27.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He is shooting 48.6% from the field and 37.8% from beyond the arc. In the 2 previous games against the Celtics this season, Kyrie averaged 21.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. He shot just 35.6% from the field and 25% from three. Kyrie is a very dangerous scorer and so the Celtics must play tough defense on him to keep him from getting hot. The Celtics will miss Smart’s defense on him in this game.
Jaylen Brown vs Seth Curry
Seth Curry came to the Nets from Philly in the James Harden trade. He is averaging 10.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. He is shooting 46.7% from the field and 42.4% from beyond the arc. Curry is a very good 3 point shooter and so the Celtics have to stay with him on the perimeter.
Robert Williams III vs Nicolas Claxton
Claxton is averaging 13.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 2.7 blocks per game. He is shooting 74.1% from the field and has not attempted a 3 pointer this season. In the two games so far this season, he averaged 9.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 3.0 blocks. He is a rim protector and will make it harder for the Celtics to score inside. If Timelord can’t go, then it will likely be Al Horford starting at center opposite Claxton.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have slowly climbed to 4th in the league with a defensive rating of 110.9. The Nets have played decent defense this season and are 10th in the league the league with a defensive rating of 112.3. The Nets are a good offensive team and are first in field goal percentage at 50.9% and second with a 3 point percentage of 39.4%. If the Celtics want to win this game they need to get a strong defensive effort from every player on the court and they need to make defense a priority throughout the 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 to beat the Nets on the boards. The Celtics are pulling down 44.7 rebounds per game, which is 7th in the league. The Nets are 29th with 40.5 rebounds per game. Of course, the Nets lead the league in field goal percentage (50.9%) and are 2nd in 3 point percentage (39.4%) so there aren’t as many rebounds to be had. The Nets are 15-2 when they out-rebound their opponents so the Celtics have to put out extra effort to get to beat the Nets on the boards.
Play Team Ball and Communicate - The Celtics need to move the ball and move without the ball and play as a team. The Nets have an iso heavy offense featuring Irving. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can’t get caught up in that and need to continue to look for the open man and keep the Celtics offense moving. When they lapse into hero ball, the team tends to struggle more. They need to communicate on defense and share the ball on offense.
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. The Nets are 24-4 when they lead after the first quarter and so the Celtics must get off to a strong start and not fall behind early. They also have to play hard right up until the final buzzer. They can’t let the Nets outwork them for any period of time.
Home Game - The Nets are a good road team with a 16-11 record away from Barclays Center. The Celtics have played well at home with a 20-5 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 very hostile crowd.
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. And the Celtics also took the first 2 games this season. Kyrie is also still looking to avenge whatever perceived wrongs he feels from the Celtics. The Celtics need to be ready for their best game as they look to get a win in this one.
Officiating - The officiating is always an x-factor. (Just ask LeBron.) Some referees call the game tight and others let them play. Some favor the home team and others call it evenly. Some refs just seem to have an agenda that doesn’t fit the events on the court. 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.