Big game here for the Celtics. Coming off back-to-back losses to Toronto at home, and OKC on the road, both in which the Celtics were in great position to win those games. The Celtics are now 1-2 without point guard, Isaiah Thomas, however, I think it's safe to say the offense has run a lot more smooth without IT.
Not only has the offense looked good, despite the record, as has the rebounding. Even if they're not winning all of the 50-50 balls, the Celtics have a lot more size and physicality at the PG position, that it's become a lot harder for opposing teams to work for offensive rebounds.
Now on to tonight's matchup:
The Celtics took a hard-fought loss last time these two squads went toe-toe, losing 109-103 at the Garden. A game in which the C's held a double-digit lead in the second half before the Spurs bench erupted, and the Celtics absolutely imploded on the glass. However, they competed and it looks like the Celtics are on the cusp of being a threat to the royalty of the NBA.
The Celtics won't have PG, Isaiah Thomas, tonight. So the Celtics, as a whole, need to come together and feed off of each other in order to halt their mini losing skid.
Projected Celtics Starting 5:
G Marcus Smart
G Avery Bradley
F Jae Crowder
F/C Amir Johnson
F/C Al Horford
Now let's take a look at the 3 Keys to the game tonight.
1. Get off to a Good Start
Something that's a given from any team coached by Gregg Popovich is their defense. Any Spurs team you see has that one lockdown defender. Whether that be Bruce Bowen of the mid-2000s or today with Kawhi Leonard. Point is, the Celtics have to get out and run and put points on the board in transition. Especially without Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics don't really have that flashy type of player that can generate his own shot. The Celtics need to get out and run as much as possible, and move the ball efficiently even in the halfcourt setting.
2. Limit Turnovers/Force Turnovers
Coinciding with Key #1, the Spurs are a great defensive team and, without IT, the Celtics don't really have an elite ballhandler on the floor. Smart and Rozier have a good handle, but against an elite team, they're going to have to simplify their game in order to not waste as many possessions as possible. On the defensive side of the ball, the Spurs don't really have an elite ball handler, so look for guys like Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley to get their hands involved to try and agitate the guards for the Spurs. At least, that should be their plan.
3. Win the Rebounding Battle
Back in November, the Spurs beat up the Celtics on the glass, winning the battle 55-42, including a 13-8 advantage on the offensive glass for San Antonio. For the Celtics to have any success tonight, they need to at least keep that battle close, if not win the battle on the boards. Without Thomas, the Celtics will likely have good size at PG at all times (unless Demetrius Jackson is playing), so it would be foolish to think the C's can't keep the battle close.
Tonight's X-Factor for the Celtics is Terry Rozier. Rozier has really stepped up in increased minutes without IT over the past few games. Rozier can rebound with the best of the guards, and is phenomenal when attacking the basket. To go on top of that, he's not an elite 3-point shooter, but he can look like one if he's taking 4 or 5 a night. He, in my opinion, he should be starting, not only tonight, but when Isaiah Thomas comes back. He's earned it. For the Celtics to win tonight, Rozier needs to have a stat line similar to this: 16 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds,and 2 steals. Rozier is a stat sheet stuffer, but if he wants to keep the minutes he's getting, or even earn more, he has to be effective tonight.