Game Preview: Bobcats at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – Tonight’s 7:30 p.m. matchup in TD Garden between the Boston Celtics (13-10) and the Charlotte Bobcats (3-21) will hold plenty of opportunities for the home team.

First and foremost, the Celtics will have an opportunity to extend their season-long winning streak to five games and win for the ninth time in their past 10 contests. The headline floating in the background, though, is that Paul Pierce will have the chance to pass Larry Bird for second place on Boston’s all-time scoring list.

Pierce enters tonight’s game with 21,782 points on his resume. That total is just nine less than Bird accumulated during his illustrious Hall of Fame career.

It’s a near-guarantee that Pierce will capitalize on his opportunity to jump into second on the list tonight. If he scored 10 or more points, he will be alone in second place behind only John Havlicek’s franchise-leading 26.395 points. Boston as a team should also be able to take advantage of its chance to extend its winning streak, because it is by far the better team in this matchup tonight.

Boston has been on fire of late, while Charlotte has grown used to being burned. The Bobcats head into tonight’s action sporting the worst record in the league at just 3-21. They have lost 11 consecutive games that include 33-point losses to both the Lakers and Knicks and an embarrassing 44-point throttling at the hands of the Trail Blazers.

The Bobcats could be in for another long night tonight, as they will be facing off against the hottest defense in the league. Boston is allowing just 81.0 PPG to its opponents over its past 10 games and has skyrocketed up the NBA’s defensive rankings.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce can pass Larry Bird on Boston's all-time scoring list by scoring 10 or more points tonight.
Steve Babineau/NBAE/Getty

The C’s will enter play tonight ranked second in the league in opponent scoring and first in the league in opponent field goal percentage. No opponent has scored more than 97 points against Boston since its first two games of the season.

Health has been the reason for the Celtics’ turnaround and streak of incredible play. Pierce, who started out the season slow after suffering a heel injury in the preseason, has returned to his customary play and the rest of the Celtics have followed suit.

“I think a lot has to do with us getting healthy, and really just getting more and more games under our belt and just getting in better shape as a ball club,” Pierce said after Sunday’s blowout win over Memphis. “There was just rust in the group at the beginning of the year.”

While the Celtics have returned to a healthy status, Charlotte cannot make the same claim. Much of the blame for their ugly record can be placed on the fact that their three best players are out of the lineup with injuries.

It all started when Corey Maggette, the team’s top veteran presence, went down with a left hamstring strain just six games into the season. He hasn’t returned to the lineup since. Charlotte’s starting point guard, D.J. Augustin, has also missed the past seven games with inflammation in his right toe. He is listed as day-to-day. To add to the list, Gerald Henderson, the Bobcats’ leading scorer, went down with a hamstring strain on Wednesday and will miss 2-4 weeks of action.

Charlotte’s roster is underwhelming when healthy, but now it is legitimately depleted. Boston should be able to put this game away with ease, and it might be able to do so while celebrating Pierce’s next step up the franchise’s scoring list.

We’ll Learn a Lot About C’s

There is no denying that the Celtics have been rolling over the past few weeks. They have won nine out of their last 11 games and four of those victories came in blowout fashion.

Most of those wins have come against teams that are talented enough to compete with the Celtics. In fact, only three of those nine wins came against teams that aren’t expected to make a push for the playoffs. In other words, Boston would have made a huge mistake if it didn’t come out with a high level of concentration and take those contests seriously.

The C’s could probably come out with a lack of focus tonight and still be able to squeeze out a win, but that’s not what the coaching staff or the fans want to see. Will the Celtics come out and display the killer instinct that often embodies championship contenders, or will it take the court assuming it will gain a win no matter how it plays? The answer to that question will tell us a lot about where this team currently stands.

Set a Record

You never go into a game looking to set records. You do, however, set goals, and Boston will surely have many goals set tonight pertaining to its defense.

As outlined earlier in this article, the Celtics’ defense has been the best in the league of late. Opponents cannot get clean looks at the basket and are shooting and scoring at woefully low numbers. That’s not good news for a Bobcats team that heads into tonight’s game as the second-worst offense in the league.

Charlotte scores an average of just 87.3 PPG on 41.9 percent shooting. Those numbers have been accumulated, for the most part, with the services of the team’s leading scorer, Henderson. He won’t be out there tonight, and Augustin, the team’s second-leading scorer, probably won’t be available either.

All of these factors lead to one glaring opportunity for the Celtics to break a record that they tied earlier this season. Boston limited Orlando to just 56 points on Jan. 23, matching a franchise record for least amount of points allowed during the shot clock era. If the C’s play up to their abilities tonight, that record could be broken.

Charlotte’s Weapons

The Bobcats are depleted, but that has given Paul Silas the opportunity to run his young players out onto the court for extended playing time and see what they can do. The two biggest names of that group are former UConn standout Kemba Walker and fellow rookie Bismack Biyombo.

Walker has taken over the starting point guard duties while Augustin has been out and he is scoring 12.3 PPG. His shooting percentage is ugly, at just 36.6 percent, but he is currently the team’s best offensive weapon.

Biyombo, who was the seventh overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, is a freak of an athlete who is still refining his game. He is a rebounder and shot blocker who will let the offense come from putbacks and open shots around the basket. Biyombo is coming off of his first career start on Saturday, when he logged career highs of 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Those players are Charlotte’s top young weapons thanks to their rash of injuries. Walker and Biyombo may be raw rookies, but they are still players to watch for when the ball goes up tonight.