The Phoenix Suns makes their only trip to the TD Garden as they play the 4th game of a 6 game road trip. The Celtics are playing in the 3rd game of a 5 game home stand. While a matinee game between the team with the best record in the league and one of the teams vying for the top of the lottery might seem to be worth missing, there are some interesting story lines surrounding this game.
First, Marcus Morris spent 3 seasons with the Suns and has not so pleasant memories of his first team. He has said it was like a slap in the face when they traded him to Detroit separating him from his twin brother for the first time in their basketball lives. He is less than complimentary to the Suns whenever asked about them. I can imagine that he would very much like to beat them and will have a good game against them.
Then there is the case of Devin Booker. When these two teams last played at the Garden, Booker scored 70 points. Only 4 players are left that remember that game but I’m sure they have filled the rest of the team in about it. The Celtics won that game handily 130-120 and led by double digits for most of the game. When they played later in the season in Phoenix, the Suns pulled out a 109-106 win on a Tyler Ulis buzzer beater.
In the final minutes, Suns coach Earl Watson turned to gimmicks to get him more points with intentional fouls and timeouts in a game that was not on the line. He was criticized for it, especially by the Celtics who didn’t like it and didn’t care for the raucous postgame locker room celebration. The Celtics have said that they are going to be ready for him this game.
The Celtics had some interest in Suns rookie Josh Jackson before the draft and tried to arrange a workout for him in Boston. It was reported that Jackson refused to work out for the Celtics, who at the time had the #1 pick. The Celtics swapped picks with Philly and picked Tatum at #3 while the Suns picked Jackson at #4. I can see the Celtics wanting to show Jackson he made the wrong choice (if he hasn’t already figured that out for himself).
Then, there is the history between these two teams. Game 5 of the 1976 Finals between the Suns and the Celtics was a triple-overtime game that is sometimes referred to as “the greatest game ever played”With the series tied 2-2, Boston took a huge lead at Boston Garden but could not hold it. Both coaches called times out they didn’t have. At the end of the second overtime, it appeared the Celtics won on a buzzer beater and the Celtics went to their locker room and fans stormed the court. However there were 2 seconds left on the clock and in the ensuing 2 seconds the Suns were able to force a third overtime before the Celtics finally won the game.
The Celtics and Suns split the series last season with each team winning on their home courts. The Celtics are 6-0 against Western Conference teams while the Suns are 4-6 against the East. The Celtics are 9-2 at home while the Suns are 4-6 on the road. The Celtics are looking for their second straight win while the Suns are hoping to avoid their second straight loss. The Celtics are 1-1 on their current home stand while the Suns are 1-2 on their road trip.
Brad Stevens’ starting lineup is hard to predict. I’m thinking that he will go back to Marcus Morris in the starting lineup, although I prefer having Baynes start. The Suns game notes have Greg Monroe starting at center but it’s possible that Tyson Chandler will get the start also. Alex Len is questionable with a sore ankle. Brandon Knight, Davon Reed, and Alan Williams are all out with knee injuries.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Two Way Players
Probable Suns Starters
Alex Len (ankle) questionable
Brandon Knight (ACL) out
Davon Reed (knee) out
Alan Williams (knee) out
Derrick Jones, Jr.
Two Way Players
Jaylen Brown vs Devon Booker
Booker is averaging 23 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. With the thoughts of his 70 game against them, the Celtics will need to stay with him on defense to avoid another big game from him in this one. He can get to the hoop as well as score from beyond the arc. He is averaging 29.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists against Boston over his career.
Jayson Tatum vs TJ Warren
Warren is averaging 18.4 points and 5.8 rebounds and is the Suns second leading scorer. Warren is averaging 10.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 0.5 steals against the Celtics over his career.
Al Horford vs Greg Monroe
Monroe is averaging 9.5 points and 6.2 rebounds. Over his career, he has averaged 16.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists against the Celtics.
Keys to the Game
Defense – Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics still have the top defensive rating in the league at 98.4 but their defense has been slipping a bit of late. Phoenix is 29th with a defensive rating of 109.1. The Celtics need to continue to make defense a priority if they want to continue to win. You can’t win without defense.
Rebound – The Celtics need to rebound on the offensive end to give themselves extra possessions and to prevent the Suns from racking up fast break points as the Suns are 9th in the league with 12.8 fast break points per game. They also have to crash the boards on the defensive end to prevent the Suns from getting tip ins and second chance points as they average 13.7 2nd chance points per game (9th in the league). The Suns are 4th in the league with 46.6 rebounds per game. The Celtics are going to have to put out extra effort to win the battle of the boards in this one.
Be Aggressive – The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team in going after loose balls and rebounds, in defending, in going to the basket. They tend to back off and be less aggressive when they face teams that they expect to beat easily. They can’t let the fact that Phoenix is 8-15 to keep them from playing all out, especially since they beat the Celtics last season when they were near the bottom of the league.
Play 48 Minutes – The Celtics have a habit of having a lapse at some point in the game. Either they come out sluggish and get into a big hole and have to fight back or they get up big and let the other team come back to make a game of it. Against the Suns in Phoenix last season, they let up at the end and allowed the Suns to hit a buzzer beating game winner. They have to play hard 48 minutes from the opening tip to the final buzzer with no let ups.
Revenge Factor – There is the Marcus Morris revenge factor as he very much still resents how he was treated by the Suns when he was there. Then there is the revenge factor for Booker’s 70 points and the way he got them, followed by an over the top celebration in the locker room, in spite of his team’s loss. And finally there is revenge for the 3 point loss in Phoenix on the Ulis buzzer beater over Isaiah.
Focus Factor – The Celtics need to focus on their game and play hard for 48 minutes. It’s a tendency at times to not play hard when they face teams that they expect to beat. However, the Celtics have a target on their backs and every team, even the worst teams, give it their best shot to try to beat the Celtics. They have to come in focused on playing basketball the right way, especially on the defensive end.