Game Preview: Nets at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – We haven’t seen a matchup between the Boston Celtics (40-37) and Brooklyn Nets (45-32) since Christmas Day. That’s going to change at 8 p.m. tonight in TD Garden.

A Celtics win over the Nets tonight would result in a split of the season series between these two teams. Brooklyn won the first two games before Boston blew the Nets out of the water by 17 points on Christmas Day.

A season split would be appropriate for these teams considering the hostility that has grown between them. These teams have undoubtedly developed a rivalry this season.

“It kind of feels some sort of chippiness between the two teams, to be honest with you, when we match up against Brooklyn,” Paul Pierce said Tuesday morning.

Pierce made that statement with good reason. These teams are on even playing field now that the Nets have moved to Brooklyn and have undergone major personnel and personality shifts. Brooklyn now believes that it is a top-tier team that can out-muscle opponents.

Humphries, Terry, Rondo

This tussle between the Nets and Celtics in late November resulted in three ejections.
Jared Wickerham/NBAE/Getty Images

That mindset led to a near-brawl between these two teams back on Nov. 28. Three players were ejected from the game after Kris Humphries committed a hard foul on Kevin Garnett. Boston lost Rajon Rondo, while Brooklyn lost Humphries as well as Gerald Wallace, who stepped into the tussle and picked up his second technical foul of the game.

Brooklyn exited TD Garden with a victory following that game, but the Celtics redeemed themselves on Christmas. The C’s shined during that Dec. 25 matchup, which was played in the sparkling Barclays Center. Boston led by as many as 21 points thanks in large part to stellar bench performances from Jeff Green (15 points) and Jared Sullinger (16 points, seven rebounds).

A lot has changed for these two teams since that date. Boston has lost three players, including Rondo and Sullinger, to season-ending injuries and brought in four new players. Brooklyn, on the other hand, fired Avery Johnson just days after that Christmas Day blowout and replaced him with P.J. Carlesimo. The Nets also inserted rebounding machine Reggie Evans into their starting lineup.

Despite all of these changes taking place over the past three months, you can safely bet that hostility remains between these two teams. Now they can finally re-hash their fresh-faced rivalry on national television at the Garden.

SG, SF Matchups

The Celtics have chosen to go to a starting lineup that includes both Green and Pierce, who are essentially interchangeable at the shooting guard and small forward positions. Boston believes that such a lineup will provide them with constant offensive advantages.

Those advantages will not exist tonight because the Nets are in the exact same boat. Their shooting guard is Joe Johnson and their small forward is Gerald Wallace. Johnson and Wallace have both spent time at each position during their NBA careers.

Expect a lot of switches between these two positions tonight. There will be no true cross-matches between them, which should make for an interesting battle.

Bradley’s D on Williams

Avery Bradley usually stacks up pretty well against opposing point guards, but that may not be the case tonight. Bradley will be defending Deron Williams, who is one of the biggest point guards in the league.

Williams is 6-foot-3 and his bulky 209-pound body outweighs Bradley by 30 pounds. Williams also possesses a strong post-up game, which Bradley typically does not have to deal with.

Boston’s fate tonight may depend on how well Bradley can defend Williams. Brooklyn’s point guard has been on fire this month, averaging 24.3 PPG on 56.9 percent shooting. It will be difficult for the C’s to beat the Nets if Williams reaches those numbers tonight.

Move Reggie Evans Around

There is no sugarcoating this fact: Evans is one of the NBA’s elite rebounders. His season average of 11.0 RPG really doesn’t do him justice. Take, for instance, the fact that Evans has grabbed at least 16 rebounds in 11 different games in the last month, maxing out with 26 boards against Portland on March 27.

Brooklyn relies on Evans to rebound and play strong defense. Points from him are a bonus. Doc Rivers called Evans a “specialty player” on Tuesday, and he did so in complimentary fashion.

“I think guys who are specialty players are pretty smart players, especially the rebounders – I don’t think they get enough credit with their basketball IQ,” Rivers said. “To be able to do that, you have to think the game at a really high level, and [Evans] has done that.”

The Celtics plan on combating Evans’ IQ with some smarts of their own. Instead of trying to out-rebound him, Boston plans on trying to move Evans to areas where he won't make as much of an impact.

“You’ve got to try to put him in areas where he can’t rebound or defend,” said Rivers.