Game Preview: Hornets at Celtics
BOSTON – Be prepared for a family affair when the Boston Celtics (20-17) and New Orleans Hornets (12-26) meet at 8 p.m. tonight in TD Garden.
There will be plenty of families in the Garden crowd, but the family that matters the most tonight goes by the last name of “Rivers.” Doc Rivers will face off against his son, Austin, for the very first time and the rest of the Rivers family will be watching from the stands. Make no mistake about it: this is a big deal to their family.
“My wife and some of the kids are coming in and all of these people want to come in to the game,” Doc said on Tuesday, “and I don’t even know how to deal with that.”
Doc will be forced to handle his family’s presence as well as the fact that his son will be his opponent. He displayed mixed emotions about the entire situation on Tuesday.
“As far as him and being on the floor, that’s just a different feeling,” Doc said. “I still don’t know how to feel about it.”
There is, however, one thing he does feel strongly about, and that’s the fact that he doesn’t want to make his family situation larger than the game. Yes, he and Austin will be opponents, but the Celtics and the Hornets will be as well.
This meeting is arriving at the high point of both teams’ seasons. In fact, these are two of the hottest teams in the NBA. Boston has won six consecutive games and New Orleans has won five of its last six. Each team can point to a key player’s return as the turning point for their seasons.
Avery Bradley came back to Boston’s lineup on January 2 and the Celtics have since rattled off six wins in seven games. Bradley’s ferocious defense has sparked the Celtics at that end of the floor, as opponents have scored just 86.3 points per game during that stretch.
Many Celtics pundits have called Bradley the “savior” of the team, and it looks like the same can be said about Eric Gordon of the Hornets. He had been out all season with a right knee injury before he returned to the lineup on December 29. Gordon has averaged 16.9 PPG in his eight games and New Orleans is 6-2 in those contests.
Ironically, it is Bradley and Gordon who are likely to face off against each other for the majority of tonight’s game. Their battle may be the key to the contest, but the talk of the night will surround the Rivers Family Feud.
The sexy names on New Orleans’ roster are Austin Rivers and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, but the guys Boston must keep an eye (or two) on tonight are Ryan Anderson and Greivis Vazquez. Those players have been snipers from beyond the 3-point arc this season and they will surely fire up 3s if the C’s leave them open.
Anderson is one of the top 3-point shooters in the league. He led the league in both 3-point attempts and makes last season and he’s currently on pace to do so again this season. Anderson is currently making 39.5 percent of his 3-pointers. Vazquez, who has been the team’s starting point guard all season long, is making 39.7 percent of his 3s.
Boston’s defensive rotations will be critical during this game. Although those rotations have been better of late, the Celtics still rank 21st in the league by allowing opponents to hit 36.7 percent of their 3s. Limiting the Hornets’ efficiency from downtown begins with tight rotations and strong close-outs on Anderson and Vazquez.
Shoot the Ball Well
Looking at the list of scoring averages by NBA teams won’t tell you how well the Celtics shoot the basketball. They rank 17th in the league with an average of just 95.5 PPG, but they make 46.4 percent of their shots, which is good for the sixth-best mark in the NBA.
Shooting the ball well and scoring a lot of points will put Boston in great position to win tonight’s game. New Orleans’ win/loss splits are drastic when it comes to opponents’ scoring totals. The Hornets allow an average of 99.6 points in their losses but just 90.8 points in their wins.
Get Out and Run
Doc always tells his team that he wants to get multiple stops in order to get out and run on fast breaks. Tonight would be a great night to make that happen.
New Orleans’ main rotation consists of several players who aren’t exactly the quickest players at their respective positions. Anderson, Robin Lopez and Jason Smith are three of the team’s top big men and none of them are known for being sprinters in transition. Rajon Rondo will also have a decisive advantage in speed when it comes to his matchup with Vazquez, who is 6-foot-6. Boston should be able to take advantage of these players in transition if it gets the requisite stops.