Game Preview: Celtics at Spurs

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BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (12-10) will wrap up their short stay in Texas with a game against the Spurs (18-6) at 8:30 p.m. tonight in San Antonio.

This quick trip for Boston began last night in Houston, where the C’s fell 101-89 to the Rockets. Now they’ll be forced to take on one of the best teams in the league that took it to them three weeks ago.

San Antonio visited Boston on Nov. 21 and walked out of TD Garden with a 112-100 victory. The Spurs led by as many as 16 points in the game thanks to dominant performances from Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Duncan totaled 20 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, while Parker scored a game-high 26 points and dished out six assists. The two All-Stars combined to shoot 19-of-29 from the field.

The Celtics didn’t have a problem scoring in that game, either. They shot 53.2 percent as a team and all five starters scored at least 12 points. Rajon Rondo led the team with 22 points to go along with a game-high 15 assists.

Doc Rivers doesn’t have any qualms with his team putting points on the board, but he also wants the C’s to prevent the other team from doing so. That didn’t happen on Nov. 21 against San Antonio, and it didn’t happen last night in Houston.

The Rockets scored 101 points against the Celtics and shot nearly 49 percent from the field Friday night. They notched 40 points in the paint and were credited with a whopping 25 fast break points on 9-of-14 shooting.

“In the third quarter, I don’t think we stopped them any time they came down the court,” Kevin Garnett said after the loss. “We need to create some kind of defensive consistency, and we just weren’t able to do that.”

Garnett and his teammates will need to find that consistency if they hope to grab a win tonight. The Celtics are playing for the third time in four nights and are taking on a very strong opponent. A game like this, on the second night of a back-to-back, is not an easy way for Boston to end its short stay in Texas.

Come Out Strong

One thing the Celtics cannot do tonight is dig an early hole. They were able to battle back from an early 17-4 deficit last night but their halftime lead didn’t last long. Boston fell behind again early in the third quarter and it couldn’t stage another comeback to grab the win.

The C’s will be playing on tired legs tonight. This third game in four nights and some of Boston’s best players have logged major minutes in the first two games of that stretch Paul Pierce has played at least 40 minutes in each of the past two games and Rondo has totaled 89 minutes over those two contests. The last thing the Celtics can do tonight is fall behind by a wide margin early on. They may need some of their more unheralded players to step up in order to avoid that.

Rotations, Rotations, Rotations

Rotations are typically the precursor to Boston’s poor defense. Those poor rotations allowed Greg Smith to make eight of his nine shots last night as he scored 20 points off of the bench. Smith’s performance in the paint was reminiscent of the one Tiago Splitter of the Spurs put forth last month in Boston.

Splitter came off of San Antonio’s bench to score 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting on Nov. 21. Nearly all of those baskets were dunks or layups. Boston’s rotations were just slow enough to allow a smart Spurs team to find Splitter camping out around the basket. Tonight’s game may hinge on Boston’s ability to improve in this area.

Who’s Starting at Shooting Guard?

Doc Rivers told us before the season that he would use a transitional starting lineup. That hasn’t been the case, as he settled into one specific starting lineup over the past few weeks, but he threw a curveball out there last night.

Courtney Lee started in place of Jason Terry at shooting guard and finished the contest with eight points and three rebounds. Word out of Boston’s locker room before the game was that Terry was excited to return to the bench.

Rivers’ reasoning for the switch likely had a lot to do with James Harden. He starts at shooting guard for Houston and is a very big body. Terry would have struggled to defend Harden at the start of the game, but Lee could handle his own. The Celtics aren’t playing against Harden tonight, so there’s potential that we could see Rivers flip the switch at shooting guard yet again.