Game Preview: Warriors at Celtics

BOSTON – It took a while for the Boston Celtics (44-15) and Golden State Warriors (27-33) to see each other on the court this season – four full months, to be exact – but now they’re set to close out their two-game regular season schedule against each other in only 11 days.

The Celtics tipped off a four-game, West Coast road trip on Feb. 22 with a 115-93 blowout over the Warriors, and now they’ll host Golden State in the TD Garden at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

A four-game losing streak for the Warriors, which included losses to two sub-.500 teams, was jumpstarted by Boston’s victory over Golden State less than two weeks ago. Minnesota and Indiana were also able to knock off the Warriors during that time span. Golden State was able to sneak out a win in Washington on Wednesday night, 106-102, to end that losing streak before making the trek to Boston.

While the first meeting between these two teams sent the Warriors in a downward direction, it did the opposite for the Celtics. Boston has gone 4-1 in its last five games, including that win over Golden State. The lone loss during that stretch came on the same day the team parted ways with Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson and was forced to play with a shortened lineup against the Nuggets in Denver.

The reason Boston was forced to play with limited bodies against the Nuggets is because Thursday’s trade deadline reshaped the team’s bench. Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic were brought in via trade and were unavailable for that game, and Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic and Chris Johnson have since been brought in via free agency. That group of five went through its first practice with the team on Thursday in Waltham, Mass., and that will surely make them a bit more comfortable for tonight’s tilt than they have been in their previous games in green.

The largest area of concern with the new additions is being able to maintain the high level of defense Boston is accustomed to playing. The Celtics’ schemes are precise, and the defense is based on team-oriented help from every angle. It takes some getting used to, but the great thing is that players who do know the system (i.e. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, etc.) will be there to help their new teammates when they’re on the floor together.

If any of those new players need some film to watch to help them learn their new defense, they can pop in tape of the Feb. 22 meeting between the C’s and Warriors. Boston locked Golden State down in that contest and limited the Warriors to just 39.3 percent shooting. The Celtics, meanwhile, shot a blistering 55.6 percent en route to their 115 points.

Defense is always the priority for Boston, but that lockdown performance against Golden State happened because the offense was so efficient. With the Celtics scoring with utter ease throughout the contest, they were able to set up their half court defense and take the Warriors out of any form of a transition game, which Golden State typically thrives in and lives by. The Warriors average the fourth-most possessions per game, also known as pace factor, in the league at 97.2 a night. That typically leads to extra scoring opportunities, but Boston actually wound up attempting 90 shots to Golden State’s 84 in that Feb. 22 game.

Some of the players have changed, but the principles remain the same. The Celtics will put the onus on their defense tonight while the Warriors will attempt to run as often as possible. Only one of these teams was able to accomplish its goal in the first meeting between these two teams, and if the same takes place again tonight, Boston will be riding a four-game winning streak when the final buzzer sounds.

Murphy’s Minutes

Boston brought in Murphy and told him that any minutes that are given to him will need to be earned. That’s true in the long run, but right now, not so much.

Glen Davis suffered a strained patella tendon in his left knee in the waning moments of Wednesday’s win over Phoenix and that injury will force him to miss his first game of the season tonight. He’s likely to miss between three and seven days, and while he’s out Murphy will likely be leaned on to pick up the slack.

For Murphy, who has played more than 20 minutes only four times this season, it’s going to be a challenge. He is not in the greatest shape of his life thanks to not playing in games for nearly two months. The last game he participated in prior to his first game with the C’s on Wednesday was all the way back on Jan. 7, and he only played 11 minutes in that contest.

On top of not being in great game shape, he’s also being put through extra practice time in order to cram his brain with Boston’s schemes. He’s scheduled to participate in two sessions today prior to tip off. He will need to fight through the wall he’s bound to hit tonight and use his second wind to give the C’s all he can for what’s likely to be more than 20 minutes of playing time.

Use Your Ticket

Kevin Garnett has been playing out of his mind of late, notching six straight double-doubles and scoring a season-high 28 points Wednesday night. The Celtics will need to rely heavily on him tonight not only because he’s playing well, but also because the frontline is incredibly thin right now.

Boston has had some sort of comfort level all season long in the frontcourt because it has known Davis would be available. That’s not the case tonight, which means that Garnett will be the one and only available big man who has been with the team for more than nine days.

The C’s will likely use Green and Murphy in the frontcourt, but Garnett will carry the load of the minutes at power forward. He notched 24 points and 12 rebounds against the Warriors on Feb. 22, and he might be in for an even bigger night tonight with the limited frontline. He has a great size and length advantage over David Lee, and Boston will try to take advantage of that all night long.

Big Lead Equals Big Dividends

Doc Rivers would love to see his team open up a big lead early on in this game, much like the Celtics did Wednesday night against the Suns. With that big lead in tow on Wednesday, Rivers was able to give a solid chunk of minutes to his new acquisitions, and that is very important considering they’re trying to learn the system as quickly as possible.

Although Boston’s starters were forced to come back into the game on Wednesday because the second unit let almost the big lead slip away, there’s no doubt that those extra minutes for the reserves were important. The hope is that the starters will be able to build a big lead early on in tonight’s game and allow Rivers to operate in a smiliar fashion and allow his new players to learn during the game. The one exception he’d like to see is that those players perform well and let him keep the starters on the bench for the majority of the fourth quarter.