Game Preview: Celtics at Kings
BOSTON – The NBA trade deadline has come and gone, which means everyone on the Boston Celtics (23-19) roster can concentrate on one thing: positioning the team for a run in the playoffs.
The push to move up the Eastern Conference standings continues tonight when the Celtics, winners of two consecutive road games, take on the Kings (14-29) at 10 p.m. in Sacramento.
The Celtics and Kings were both quiet at the deadline, with neither team making a move. That means the Celtics roster that has won eight out of 10 and the Kings roster that has lost seven out of 10 will collide tonight.
Danny Ainge likes where his team stands and that’s one of the reasons why he decided not to make a move. Although he admitted trade discussions were running up until the deadline passed, Ainge believes he has the type of players who can lead this team to big time victories.
“I have a lot of faith in our guys that they know the time and the score, and they know when the lights are on,” Ainge said Thursday night. “They rise to the occasion (in) the big moments.”
That characteristic has been sounding off this week.
Boston has won two of its three games to start off this eight-game road trip and both of those victories came via clutch shots from Kevin Garnett. Garnett hit a jumper over Bobby Simmons on Monday night in Los Angeles to seal a win over the Clippers and then followed that up with the game-winner against the Warriors two nights later.
Garnett is one of the biggest reasons why the Celtics have emerged as one of the hottest teams in the league since the All-Star break. He is averaging 17.1 PPG and 9.0 RPG since the break while playing at the center position.
Ainge discussed Thursday night how Boston is keeping close tabs on Garnett’s minutes and defensive responsibilities while playing center. He is averaging 31.7 minutes a game, but as Ainge alluded to, the C’s are making sure that Garnett is not defending the biggest body on the floor at all times.
“Kevin’s body isn’t such that I want him banging a lot,” said Ainge. “The thing is that he plays center some nights but some nights Brandon (Bass) guards the bigger, stronger guys.”
Tonight will likely be one of those occasions, as the C’s may not want Garnett banging with the 6-foot-11, 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins has turned into a walking double-double this season thanks to his averages of 16.5 PPG and 11.2 RPG. As a second-year big man, he ranks fifth in the NBA with 26 double-doubles.
Cousins is one of the young pieces Kings President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie likely fielded plenty of calls on yesterday. With the Celtics attempting to preserve KG, we’ll likely see Bass and Greg Stiemsma defending him more often than not.
Cousins’ emergence hasn’t led to many wins for Sacramento, but the team’s future is bright with all of the young talent they have stockpiled. Marcus Thornton (18.0 PPG) and Tyreke Evans (17.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 4.9 APG) are two of the most explosive young guards in the league, and rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas (9.7 PPG, 3.1 APG) has emerged as a strong player as well.
The Kings are loaded with young and talented pieces but Petrie decided to keep them all in house. Ainge’s pieces may not be young, but they’re as talented as they come and he wanted to keep them in house, too.
With both teams standing pat at the deadline, this game will be won based on sheer execution and not the ability to integrate new additions. The way Boston has been playing of late, it has to love its chances.
Sacramento has chosen to abandon the conventional lineup and instead start its five most talented players. Those players are Cousins, Evans, Thornton, Thomas and Jason Thompson. The interesting thing about that group is that there is no small forward included.
Evans, Thornton and Thomas are all guards, with Evans’ 6-foot-6 frame being the largest of the group. Cousins and Thompson are both 6-foot-11.
With no small forward in the group, Rivers will need to decide who Paul Pierce will defend. Will it be the bigger player in Evans, or Thornton, who is more of a scorer than a facilitator?
Break the Century Mark
The Kings have a bunch of talent, but most of that talent shows face at the offensive end of the floor. On defense? Not so much. The Kings are the worst team in the league in terms of opponent scoring (103.3 PPG) and opponent field goal percentage (47.6 percent).
That’s pretty bad defense – the worst defense, actually – and Boston will attempt to take advantage of it. The C’s have been clicking at the offensive end of the floor and have scored 97.5 PPG since the All-Star break. They should be able to break triple-digits tonight against this poor Sacramento defense. Such an occurrence typically leads to a win; Boston has won eight of its last nine games in which it has broken the century mark, including a 5-0 record in the last five occurrences.
The Celtics are missing a couple of important reserves and that has put even more pressure on the rest of the bench to perform. Luckily for Boston, that group has brought some fire to the table of late.
One form of fire came via shooting Wednesday night. How good was the bench? How about a combined 10-of-12 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line for 29 points? Not too bad.
Another form of fire the bench has brought to the table is a fiery personality. Greg Stiemsma went right at Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan Monday night. Mickael Pietrus and Avery Bradley do the same against their opponents every night on the perimeter. That type of personality can be infectious on their teammates.
If the bench brings these two types of fire onto the floor tonight in Sacramento, the C’s could be looking at a dominant victory over the Kings.