Game Preview: Celtics at Wizards
BOSTON - The Boston Celtics (1-3) and Washington Wizards (0-3) will meet four times this season, and they'll get half of those matchups out of the way over the next two days.
Boston, fresh off of its first win of the season, will visit the Wizards at 6 p.m. tonight in the first game of a home-and-home set that will be played over the next two nights. The second game will be played on Monday night back in Boston, where the Celtics opened up with a home win Friday night.
That first home game of the season was a great one for the Celtics, who dominated the Detroit Pistons in the second half en route to a 96-85 win. Boston led by as many as 25 points in the third quarter of that contest thanks to the return of Paul Pierce and big games from Jermaine O'Neal, Ray Allen and Brandon Bass.
Although Boston grabbed its first win of the season, Pierce's return was the big story of the night. He had not played in a single game and only had one preseason practice under his belt before taking the floor Friday night. That didn't stop him from racking up 12 points, four boards and five dimes in less than 23 minutes of action. That's what we like to call a professional.
With Pierce back in the lineup and a win under their belts, the Celtics seem to be moving in the right direction. The Wizards cannot say the same.
Washington heads into Sunday's matchup with an 0-3 record, and it's not as if they've played against top-tier opponents. New Jersey (1-3), Atlanta (3-0) and Milwaukee (2-1) have taken the Wizards to school, and none of those losses have been very close. In fact, the average deficit in those three games has been 15.0 PPG.
The Bucks dominated Washington on Friday night and dealt the Wizards a 102-81 loss. Washington shot just 35.3 percent from the floor in the contest and was outrebounded by 15. The lone bright spot for the Wizards in the game was John Wall, who scored 24 points despite being hampered with five fouls.
Wall is one member of a promising young core that exists in Washington. For some reason, that core seems as if it hasn't quite gelled yet under third-year head coach Flip Saunders. Wall, JaVale McGee and Nick Young and Jordan Crawford highlight Washington's roster and that group continues its development with each game.
Although Washington hasn't won a game yet, it's not as if it doesn't have the talent to compete on a nightly basis. The Wizards are just waiting for things to click.
The Celtics were waiting for things to click, too, and that happened Friday night. With Boston now in the win column and Pierce back on the floor, things should return to normalcy in Boston sooner rather than later. That would include beating up on struggling teams like the Wizards, and the Celtics have an opportunity to do that twice over the next two days.
Keep Young Quiet
Nick Young is by far the Wizards' top scoring option and the Celtics will need to keep track of him tonight. He's coming off a poor performance against the Bucks that featured just three points on 1-of-10 shooting, but he still leads the team in scoring with 13.3 PPG. Don't let that average mislead you – the kid can fill it up.
Young established himself as a reliable NBA scorer last season when he took his 2009-10 average of 8.6 PPG and more than doubled it in 2010-11, all the way up to 17.4 PPG. He is poised to increase that number again this season if he can beat out Jordan Crawford, who averaged 16.3 PPG in 26 games with the Wizards last season, for the starting shooting guard spot.
Boston's top priorities on defense during this game will be to contain Wall's penetration and not allow Young to go off with his scoring. Young is streaky and can catch fire at any moment. The Celtics' perimeter defenders will have their hands full, but as they proved last season when they limited Young to just 13.0 PPG, they have the ability to contain him.
It's no secret that Paul Pierce is an essential piece to this Celtics team. His value can be assessed with the following records: 0-3 without him, 1-0 with him.
The return of Pierce highlighted Boston's first win of the season on Friday night. He didn't play a ton of minutes, only 22:49 to be exact, but when his name was announced for the starting lineups the TD Garden let it be known that their captain has been missed dearly. His teammates responded as well, showing off the team's best overall performance of the season.
Pierce's numbers will only increase as he returns to game shape and gets some practice time under his belt. He shook off a bit of the rust on Friday, which means he should definitely make an even larger impact statistically tonight.
Maintain the Momentum
Friday night's win over the Pistons was critical for the Celtics. An 0-3 start was bad, but an 0-4 start, including losses to two teams that aren't expected to make playoff runs, would have been a disaster.
Boston turned it all around Friday night with a solid performance against the Pistons. The Celtics operated with efficiency at both ends of the court for a full 48 minutes and they finally looked like a team. The defense stepped up to limit Detroit to just 85 points on 43.0 percent shooting, and the offense tallied 25 assists. Those numbers are an indication that the C's are really beginning to mesh.
If there is a perfect time to maintain that solid play moving forward, it's now. Boston has a great opportunity lying ahead, with eight of the next 10 games being played at TD Garden. This is the time for the Celtics to rack up valuable wins, not losses to underwhelming teams. Boston will be able to do that if it maintains the momentum it started on Friday night.