Game Preview: Suns at Celtics
BOSTON – A five-game homestand will be tipped off in style at 7:30 p.m. tonight when the Boston Celtics (17-17) host the visiting Phoenix Suns (12-24). The Celtics are riding a season-best three-game winning streak and are undeniably playing their best basketball of the season.
Boston has downed its last three opponents, all of which are currently in the top four of the Eastern Conference, by an average of 11 points per game. Those three opponents combined to make just 37.9 percent of their shots. To put that into perspective, Indiana leads the NBA in opponent field goal percentage by allowing just 41.4 percent of opponents’ shots to go in.
This recent defensive surge is bringing back memories of last season’s dominant defense. Doc Rivers believes it all starts with Boston’s ball-hawking guards.
“Avery (Bradley) and Courtney (Lee) were picking up full court on both of their guards,” Rivers said on Tuesday while discussing Monday’s win over the Knicks. “You don’t see that too often. It had an impact. Instead of the Knicks running up and down the floor, we were running and they were playing in half court because of our pressure.”
That wasn’t just the case on Monday; it has been the case for three full games now. The Celtics are on a tear, and it’s all due to their defense.
Phoenix is currently at the other end of the spectrum. It has lost nine of its last 10 games while giving up an average of 100.1 PPG in those losses. The only victory during that stretch came against the 76ers one week ago.
To the Suns’ credit, they have been navigating through an incredibly difficult stretch of games. Philadelphia is the only opponent out of Phoenix’s last 10 games that currently has a sub-.500 record. The Suns may be losing, but they’re losing to good teams and their margin of defeat is fairly slim. Those nine losses have come by an average of just 8.3 PPG, and that average is skewed by a 26-point defeat at the hands of the Clippers.
Although Phoenix has been losing, it does have a crop of talent. Five players on its roster average at least 11.6 PPG and the Suns rank ninth in the league in blocks per game with 5.7 a night. Goran Dragic is their leading scorer (14.6 PPG) and assist man (6.4 APG), while Marcin Gortat is their top rebounder (8.8 RPG) and shot blocker (1.89 BPG).
Phoenix has a brutal record but it has been competitive throughout the season. The stars may be aligning for the Celtics but they will need to play well in order to grab a win and tip off this homestand on a high note.
Hold Phoenix to Less Than 100 Points
Rivers threw out an interesting statistic before Tuesday’s practice when he said, “I don’t know what the numbers are… I think it’s 16-6 when we hold teams under 100 and 1-11 the other way.”
He was pretty close with those numbers. The Celtics are actually 14-6 when they hold teams to less than 100 points and 3-11 when they allow opponents to score 100 points or more. Clearly that is a defensive benchmark for the C's. In that same realm of statistics, the Suns have a difficult time winning when they don’t score; they average just 93.0 PPG in their losses.
Use the Garden
The Celtics are playing against a capable team tonight but the Suns have been terrible on the road this season. They have won just two of their 17 games while playing in opponents’ arenas.
Boston, on the other hand, is 10-6 at home this season and is about to begin its longest homestand of the season. This is obviously a fantastic opportunity for the Celtics to continue their path in the right direction. They need to capitalize on these five consecutive games at home. Their attempt to do so begins tonight against Phoenix.
The Return of Rondo
The NBA suspended Rajon Rondo on Monday for making contact with an official during Saturday’s game in Atlanta. He spoke to the media yesterday and said that the contact was accidental while he was cracking a joke to the referee.
Regardless of what happened, Rondo was out of the lineup for Monday's game. Now he gets to bring his league-leading 11.3 APG and strong defense back into the lineup. The Celtics may have grabbed a big win on Monday without Rondo, but they know that they are a much better team with him on the floor.