Game Preview: Celtics at Warriors

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BOSTON – Twenty-four hours ago the Boston Celtics (22-19) were in Oakland preparing a game plan for Monta Ellis and the Golden State Warriors (18-21). Fast-forward to the present and you'll find a much different situation.

Boston is still preparing to take on the Warriors at 10:30 p.m. tonight in Oracle Arena, but Ellis has since parted ways with the team. He was traded late Tuesday night, along with Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown, to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson.

The trade guts Golden State of the ninth-leading scorer in the league in Ellis, who had poured in 21.9 points a night over 37 games with the Warriors this season. They will attempt to replace that scoring with current players tonight, as Bogut is sidelined for the foreseeable future with a fractured left ankle and Jackson may not be available.

Golden State didn’t have a problem shaking off the trade news Tuesday night to knock off Sacramento without their former star guard. The Warriors, who found out about the trade in the locker room before the game, dominated the Kings in a 115-89 victory on the road.

As evidenced by that high-scoring performance, Golden State’s offense didn’t seem to miss a beat. Six players, including two reserves, scored in double-figures, led by Nate Robinson, David Lee and Brandon Rush’s 17 points apiece.

With Ellis shipped out and Stephen Curry sidelined with a mild right ankle sprain, first-year head coach Mark Jackson was forced to start a backcourt of Robinson and rookie Klay Thompson. That duo performed well, combining for 31 points, six rebounds, eight assists and zero turnovers. It’s highly possible that the Celtics could see that same backcourt start against them tonight, as Curry’s availability is unknown.

Although Robinson and Thompson played well last night, Boston would be more than happy to see that twosome start tonight’s game. That would mean that the C’s were able to avoid the high-scoring Ellis and one of the premier shooters in the game in Curry. Such a scenario could be the recipe for Boston’s eighth win in its last 10 games.

KG, Paul Pierce

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have upped their play since the All-Star break, and the rest of the C's have followed suit.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

The Celtics head into tonight’s game on a high note after knocking off the Clippers Monday night in Los Angeles by a score of 94-85. They narrowly missed a two-game sweep of the Los Angeles teams, as they fell 97-94 to the Lakers Sunday afternoon after Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum’s late surge to close the game.

Still, though, Doc Rivers and his team must be excited to head into tonight’s game with the possibility of advancing their record to 2-1 on this challenging eight-game road trip.

Boston still displays some inconsistencies at times, but it has certainly found a rhythm since the All-Star break. The offense, which averaged just 89.4 PPG before the break, has averaged 96.7 PPG in its nine games since All-Star weekend. Boston’s offensive resurgence has been led by improved play from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Pierce is scoring 21.0 PPG since the break, up from 17.6 PPG before his trip to Orlando for All-Star weekend. Likewise, Garnett has upped his scoring average of 14.4 PPG before the break to 16.3 PPG over the past nine games. Garnett is also pulling in 9.2 boards a night since returning from All-Star weekend.

The Celtics are playing well thanks to a spike in production from their best players. Golden State, meanwhile, may be forced to take on Boston tonight without the services of its top two players of the past few seasons.

With Ellis already long gone and Curry’s availability up in the air, the C’s are in prime position to notch yet another big win.

Don’t Take Them Lightly

The undermanned Warriors didn’t just defeat a young and talented Kings team last night; they dominated that game. Golden State led by as many as 27 points in the contest and played stellar at both ends, racking up 20 assists compared to just seven turnovers and limiting Sacramento to 40.2 percent shooting. They have now won three in a row and four out of five overall.

Even without Ellis and Curry, this Golden State squad has loads of talent. David Lee is a box sheet stuffer; Thompson is one of the most promising rookies in the game; Robinson has averaged double-figures in scoring in four of his six full seasons; and Brandon Rush is one of the top shooters off the bench this league has to offer.

No matter who is or isn’t playing for the Warriors tonight, Boston cannot take them lightly. The C’s need to come into this game with the same type of passion and grit that they displayed for two straight games in Los Angeles.

Move the Ball

Why has Boston’s offense slid into a groove since the All-Star break? Because it is moving the ball with consistency and finding the open shot.

The Celtics are averaging a whopping 27.0 APG since the All-Star break, highlighted by a 33-assist effort against the Lakers on Sunday. To give an idea of how phenomenal that number is, the Chicago Bulls currently lead the league in assists this season with 23.5 per game. Boston is blowing that number out of the water over its past nine games.

Moving the ball should lead to another huge assist night tonight, as the C’s are taking on one of the worst defenses in the league. Golden State ranks 25th in opponent scoring and allows teams to shoot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from 3-point range.

Small Ball City

The Celtics will go from Lob City on Monday to Small Ball City tonight. With Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal both out of the lineup, Boston has been playing with just one big man off the bench, Greg Stiemsma. JaJuan Johnson is also available, but he hasn’t played meaningful minutes since before the All-Star break.

Luckily for Boston, the Warriors are in the same boat. They essentially played an eight-man rotation last night in Sacramento without a single big man logging more than four minutes off the bench. Tuesday’s rotation consisted of five perimeter players, an inside-the-arc small forward, one power forward and one center.

Needless to say, we’re likely to see small ball played by both teams all night long. That will likely lead to a lot of points being put on the scoreboard. The question is, can the Celtics put up more than this athletic Warriors team?