Game Preview: Celtics at Nets (preseason)

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce scored 29 points against the undermanned Nets Tuesday night.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

BOSTON – It was less than 48 hours ago that the Boston Celtics (1-4) and the Brooklyn Nets (3-0) met for the very first time in TD Garden. Now, after a short trip southwest, they’ll meet at 8 p.m. tonight for the very first time in the brand new Barclays Center.

Tonight’s game is expected to look much more like a regular season matchup than Tuesday’s contest did. Brooklyn’s 97-96 victory in Boston had the look and feel of a preseason game.

The Celtics used the contest as a stepping stone toward the regular season. Most of their core played between 26 and 36 minutes and Doc Rivers limited his rotation for the first time. Meanwhile, Avery Johnson rested his entire starting lineup in the second night of a back-to-back.

The two teams were not evenly matched, to say the least.

As expected, Boston’s core controlled most of Tuesday’s game once the group caught its stride. The Celts built a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter that was handed over to players who were sitting at the end of their bench. However, the combination of four Celtics rookies and Jason Collins could not hold onto that cushion and Boston wound up falling in a nail-biter.

Kevin Garnett was the only core Celtics player who did not log substantial playing time during Tuesday’s game. He played only 14 minutes. Doc Rivers is expected to increase Garnett’s minutes at some point to match what he’ll see during the regular season. Tonight might be the night for that to happen, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

The Celtics only have three preseason games remaining on their schedule, yet Rivers and his coaching staff are still learning which lineups suit the team best. Tuesday night’s game was the first time during the preseason that we saw the C’s use consistent rotations throughout an entire game. We’re likely to see those rotations tightened even more so tonight, particularly against such a strong divisional opponent.

Many NBA analysts view Brooklyn as a contender in the East and the odds are that Johnson is going to run his top guns onto the floor tonight. That means that Boston, for the first time this preseason, may have its first opportunity of the preseason to face off against an elite team

There aren’t many better ways to gauge your team than that. The fact that we may see both teams at full strength (sans long-term injuries) should give this game a much different feel than Tuesday night’s matchup.

The New-Look Nets

There’s no denying the fact that this version of the Nets is comprised of the best talent the franchise has had in nearly a decade. A starting fivesome of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez could and should keep up with any opposing starting group in the league.

This is a team Boston will need to get used to, because the odds are Brooklyn won’t fade away in the standings. These two teams, at full strength, can compete for an Eastern Conference title. Tonight’s contest might be their first chance to take a swing at each other with their probable starting fives.

Sullinger on the Glass

If Jared Sullinger gets the call to start at power forward again tonight, it will be the biggest challenge of his young professional career. Kris Humphries might be better known for his off-the-court dealings, but make no mistake about it: the guy can play basketball.

Humphries is one of the top double-double guys in the league. He’s quick, can finish around the basket, has a big body and has a knack for crashing the glass. Many of those characteristics describe Sullinger as well. We might get a preview tonight of how the big rookie stacks up against top-line power forwards.

Keeping up with Rondo

We know that Rajon Rondo is the best passer in the NBA. We also know that he typically takes care of the ball, with few egregious mistakes. However, Rondo’s turnover rate has been extremely high over the past two games.

Rondo has totaled 10 turnovers in the past two games while racking up 17 assists. He is seeing the floor well and whipping the ball around with accuracy. The problem is, he’s still learning his teammates and they’re still learning him. Hopefully his new teammates will show that they can keep up with his creativity in their sixth game together.