Game Preview: Nets at Celtics

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BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (8-6) and Brooklyn Nets (9-4) will meet for the second time this season at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden. You can bet that this matchup will be quite different than the first.

The C’s traveled to Brooklyn on Nov. 15 and fell to the Nets 102-97 without the services of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, who missed the game with a sprained right ankle. Boston still managed to hang around until Deron Williams sealed the game with free throws with 16.2 seconds left on the clock.

Rondo, who is blowing away his competition with an average of 13.7 assists per game this season, will be on the floor for tonight’s contest. Courtney Lee is one of many who believe that the point guard’s presence will alter the tenor of this matchup.

“That’s how it’s going to be different – [Rondo’s] going to be out there,” Lee said on Tuesday. “He’s going to be out there orchestrating our offense and starting the head of the defense with [Kevin Garnett] in the back. So I think it’s going to be a lot different.”

Boston was still able to knife Brooklyn’s defense up on Nov. 15 despite Rondo being on the sideline. Leandro Barbosa started in Rondo’s place and scored 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting. He was one of five Celtics to score in double-figures while the team shot 46.7 percent from the field overall.

Those were great numbers for the Celtics but they were accrued in uncustomary fashion. Boston played quite a bit of one-on-one basketball that night and finished with just 17 assists, which is more than seven less than their season average of 24.3 per game.

Rondo will give his team a boost in that department tonight, but he’s not the only player who will rejoin this Atlantic Division showdown. Gerald Wallace, Brooklyn’s starting small forward, also missed the Nov. 15 game of the season with a sprained ankle but he has recovered and will be on the floor tonight. Wallace is averaging just 7.8 points per game this season but he is Brooklyn’s best defensive player.

That could be an issue for Paul Pierce, who took advantage of Wallace’s absence in the first matchup. Pierce led the Celtics with 22 points and made eight of his 12 field goal attempts. He also contributed seven rebounds and four assists.

Pierce’s stellar game nearly pushed the C’s over the top without Rondo, but Boston came up just short. This time around, these two teams can get a feel for how they match up at full strength.

Defend the Post

Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams

Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams will face off tonight for the first time during this regular season.
NBAE/Getty Images

You might think that we’re talking about defending Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and the likes in this section, but we aren’t. Instead, we’re referencing Boston’s need to defend the post against Brooklyn’s perimeter players. This Nets team has size and strength at their three perimeter positions, and they will try to take advantage of that as often as possible.

“They can post up their 1, which they will a lot,” said Doc Rivers. “They can post up their 2, and they’ll post up their 3. So it’s rare that you have three in that position, all three guys are post guards. And they’re all shooters, too. Joe (Johnson) can shoot, Deron can do anything, but they’re both powerful guards and they create a ton of problems.”

Boston’s perimeter players will do their best to defend the post one-on-one, but in the case of double-teams, the C’s will need to have tight defensive rotations throughout the game.

Protect the Glass

Anyone who watched the last meeting between these two teams knows that the C’s lost due in large part to their inability to rebound the basketball. Brooklyn grabbed a whopping 18 offensive boards that led to 23 second-chance points. That’s not how you win basketball games.

“At the end of the day you’ve got to be a great defensive rebounding team,” Rivers said. “Historically, go back and look at all of the numbers, defensive rebounding teams win.”

Brooklyn won’t wind up with a ridiculous amount of offensive boards if Boston protects the glass on its defensive end of the floor. Accomplishing such a goal could lead to a victory for the C’s.

Garnett on Lopez

You’d be hard-pressed to find many people around the league who consider Brook Lopez as an overwhelming interior presence, but the big man had a field day against the C’s earlier this month. Lopez grabbed just six rebounds in that game, but he scored 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting. The majority of those baskets came on layups or shots in the paint.

Garnett couldn’t have been happy as his team flew back to Boston that night. Not only did the C’s lose; Garnett also watched Lopez percolate in the paint. One would think that KG will be out to make sure that doesn’t happen tonight. That’s not a good thing for Lopez.