Game Preview: Kings at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The fact that Rajon Rondo is out for the season with a torn ACL has been marinating in the minds of the Boston Celtics (21-23) for three days. Now it’s time for them to officially move on.

The Celtics will play their first game of the rest of their season at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden against the Sacramento Kings (17-29). It will be Boston’s first opportunity to play with the knowledge that Rondo is no longer an active member of the team.

Doc Rivers, the lone member of the Celtics who knew of Rondo’s fate prior to Sunday’s win over the Heat, on Tuesday afternoon discussed the challenges of moving forward without Rondo. He is focusing on who brings the ball up the court, but he also understands that he must alter his coaching strategies.

“You’ve gotta be careful with your play calling,” Rivers said. “You simplify it. You let them play through space and just read it from there.”

The Celtics played pretty well with that strategy Sunday afternoon. They won with their defense, but they also outperformed the Heat in nearly every offensive statistic. That game was evidence for Rivers that the Celtics can remain as a successful team without Rondo in the fold.

“I do think we can be really good,” he said. “We’ll be a little different, but I think we can be really good.”

Sunday proved that the C’s can still outplay the league’s top teams, but there have been plenty of instances this season in which they’ve played down to opponents as well. One of those moments was on December 30, when the Kings crushed the Celtics in Sacramento by a score of 118-96.

Thomas, KG

The Celtics had a difficult time bottling up Isaiah Thomas when they visited the Kings on December 30.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

The Kings had three players score at least 20 points in the game. Miniature point guard Isaiah Thomas scored 27 all by himself. In addition to those big scoring nights, DeMarcus Cousins also pitched in his first career triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

That contest was a low point for the C’s this season. Fortunately for them, the defense has drastically improved since that date. Avery Bradley has been back in the lineup for nearly all of January and he has helped the Celtics return to defensive dominance.

Boston’s improved defense will look to show the Kings that the last meeting between these two teams was an anomaly. Rondo may not be in the lineup, but as Boston proved on Sunday, it is still a force to be reckoned with.

Ball Movement

Once the Celtics get into their half court offense, they must move the ball. The Kings are a very formidable defensive team despite their youth. Being stagnant with the ball is not the way to overcome a solid defense.

Some pundits believe that the loss of Rondo will force Boston to move the ball even more than it did in the past. Rivers agrees, to some degree, because most of the offense will now be based on dribble-hand-offs and spacing, rather than Rondo’s ability to break down the defense and make correct reads.

Boston’s second unit has been moving the ball with grace for nearly all of this month. That group is likely to continue that trend, but the first unit must also now adjust and not allow the ball to stick.

Fresh Legs

Unlike the last time these two teams met, when the Celtics were closing out a demanding four-game road trip, Boston will be playing with fresh legs tonight. By the time tip-off arrives, Boston will not have played a game in more than three full days.

Sacramento, meanwhile, played a tight matchup with the Wizards Monday night in Washington, D.C. The Kings won that contest by a score of 96-94, but they needed a fourth-quarter comeback and a game-winning shot with 1.9 seconds left to grab the victory.

There should be no expectations that the Kings will walk into TD Garden tonight looking like zombies. They’re young and they’ll be just fine. The more important factor is that the Celtics are likely to be as charged up as they’ve been in a month.

The Return of Great Shooting?

It’s no secret that the Celtics have been struggling to make shots during January. They shot the ball well during their six-game win streak, but outside of that, Boston has struggled in this department. The C’s have shot just 43.8 percent from the field over its last 10 games and only made 40.9 percent of their shots during Sunday’s win over the Heat.

We might witness a drastic change in that area tonight. The C’s have been playing on tired legs all month long, but as we noted in the section above, that won’t be the case for tonight’s game. They’ve gotten some rest over the past few days and that should pay off in the shooting department.