The Celtics host the San Antonio Spurs for the second and final meeting between these two teams this season. The Celtics won the first game between them 121-116 on January 7 in San Antonio. Considering the fact that the Spurs are obviously tanking, a 5 point win isn’t very encouraging. The Spurs swept the series 2-0 last season. The Celtics are 44-56 all time against the Spurs and 22-28 against them in Boston.
This is the second straight home game for the Celtics after returning from a 14 day, 6 game road trip. In the first one they beat the Pacers at home on Friday. They will go back on the road after this game for games in Washington and Milwaukee. This is the final game of a 4 game road trip for the Spurs. They are 0-3 so far on the trip, losing to New Orleans, Milwaukee and Washington.
The Celtics remain second in the East, 2 games behind the first place Milwaukee Bucks. They are 2 games ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia and 4.5 games ahead of 4th place Cleveland. Both Milwaukee and Philadelphia are on Western trips and both lost on Saturday. They are 27-9 at home and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 21-7 against Western Conference opponents. They have won their last two games.
The Spurs are 14th in the West, 1 game ahead of last place Houston. They are 13.5 games behind 13th place Portland so there is no possibility to move up in the standings. They are 3 games behind Detroit for last place in the league and the biggest chance to get the #1 pick. They are 6-30 on the road and 3-7 in their last 10 games. Theya re 12-17 against Eastern Conference teams and have lost their last 3 games.
Malcolm Brogdon missed Friday’s game with back soreness but at this time isn’t on the injury list. However, Jayson Tatum has been added to the list with a hip contusion. It may be a good game to give him some rest. Payton Pritchard is questionable for this game with the heel injury. And Danilo Gallinari remains out with the ACL injury that has kept him out all season so far. I’ve listed the same starting lineup as the last game but if Tatum is out, I’m guessing that either Robert Williams or Grant Williams will move into the starting lineup.
The Spurs have a lengthy list of players who are questionable or who are out. Jeremy Sochan has missed 3 of the last 4 games and is listed as out for this game. Charles Bassey and Khem Birch are both listed as out with knee injuries. Malaki Branham is questionable with back soreness. Former Celtic Romeo Langford has missed the last 2 games and is is questionable with an adductor injury. Keldon Johnson is listed as questionable with a foot injuy but he returned on Friday from a 2 game absence and played 31 minutes, scoring 30 points.
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
Payton Pritchard (heel) questionable
Jayson Tatum (hip) questionable
Probable Spurs Starters
PG: Tre Jones
SG: Devin Vassell
SF: Keldon Johnson
PF: Keita Bates-Diop
C: Zach Collins
Two Way Players
Malaki Branham (back) questionable
Jeremy Sochan (knee) out
Charles Bassey (knee) out
Khem Birch (knee) out
Keldon Johnson (foot) questionable
Romeo Langford (thigh) questionable
Jaylen Brown vs Keldon Johnson
Johnson is the Spurs leading scorer, averaging 22 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. He is shooting 45.3% from the field and 33.2% from beyond the arc. Johnson is listed as questionable, but he returned from a 2 game absence on Friday to put up 30 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists in 31 minutes and so I’m guessing that he will play in this one.
Derrick White vs Devin Vassell
Vassell is averaging 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. He is shooting 44.1% from the field and 39.1% from beyond the arc. He is a threat from the perimeter and so the Celtics need to guard him inside and out.
Marcus Smart vs Tre Jones
Jones is averaging 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He is shooting 44.4% from the field and but just 26.1% 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.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the most important key to winning games. The Celtics are finally showing signs of getting back to the defensive identity that made them so tough last season. The Celtics are 4th with a defensive rating of 111.0 while the Spurs are 30th with a defensive rating of 119.3. The Celtics have to especially defend in the paint since the Spurs are 2nd with 55.5 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 15.5 second chance points per game. The Celtics are averaging 45.1 rebounds per game while the Spurs are averaging 43.4 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 have 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.
Home Game and Road Fatigue - The Spurs are playing in their 4th straight road game. The Celtics are playing in their 2nd straight home game. The Spurs will likely be feeling some fatigue from travel and being on the road and from staying in hotels and playing in front of hostile crowds. The Celtics need to take advantage of having the crowd behind them and from playing in the friendly confines of the TD Garden.
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. Joe Mazzula won the first game this season. Can he get the sweep? 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 and not on the officiating.