Watch It! - Suns at Celtics
Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.
Avery Bradley’s long-awaited return may finally happen tonight. Bradley, who has been nursing a sprained right ankle since originally injuring it on Jan. 21, hasn’t played for the Celtics since Feb. 9. Boston has been eying tonight’s game as a possible return for Bradley for nearly a week.
“(Athletic trainer) Ed (Lacerte) just told me Friday is a possibility, but we’ll see,” Stevens told reporters on Saturday. “I don’t want to say with any certainty on Friday or not… but hopefully we get him back sooner rather than later.”
Stevens gave no update on Bradley’s status prior to Wednesday’s game against New York. Bradley’s looming return remains as a wait-and-see situation as we head into tonight’s contest.
Speeding up the Pace
Phoenix may not play at the fastest pace in the league but it is certainly an up-tempo squad. The Suns rank seventh in the NBA in pace, averaging 98.3 possessions per game.
The Celtics have already gotten a first-hand look at that up-tempo system this season. Phoenix ran at every opportunity when these teams met on Feb. 19, racking up an impressive 30 fast break points. That number stands 11 points higher than the Suns’ league-leading season average of 18.9 fast break points per game.
Retreating to the defensive end of the court must be on the Celtics’ minds at all times tonight. Phoenix doesn’t need turnovers to score in transition. It will push the tempo even after made baskets by the C’s.
Phoenix has been stemming the tide for the past two and a half months while one of its best players has been out. Eric Bledsoe missed 33 straight games with a right knee injury before returning to the lineup Wednesday night.
Bledsoe is an enormous addition to this Suns team. He is second on the team in both scoring (17.8 points per game) and assists (6.0 assists per game). Bledsoe played well in his first game back, logging 15 points and nine assists during 32 minutes of action.
Boston was able to contain Goran Dragic last month but that task will become much more difficult if Bledsoe does play tonight. Bledsoe and Dragic are a lethal combination on the perimeter.
Young Bigs off the Bench
Both the Celtics and the Suns have a nice combination of big men coming off of their bench. Boston uses the duo of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, while Markieff and Marcus Morris boost Phoenix’s bench production.
Sullinger and Olynyk have proven to be a solid frontcourt pair this month. Sullinger has scored in double-figures in five of his six games in March and has grabbed at least eight rebounds in his last four games. Olynyk, meanwhile, has scored at least 13 points in three of his last five games and has grabbed at least four offensive boards in his last two games.
The Morris twins have been a solid pair all season long for the Suns. Each player is scoring in double-figures this season, as Markieff is scoring 13.5 PPG and Marcus is scoring 10.3 PPG. They are also combining for nearly 10 rebounds a night for Phoenix. The duo put up 29 total points against Boston last month.
Credit must be given to the Suns for their impressive season thus far. Standing at 36-28, they are the most surprising team in the league. Rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek has turned a group of journeymen and youngsters into a legit playoff contender.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, the magic has worn off since taking down San Antonio on Feb. 21. The Suns have gone just 3-7 since and have fallen behind Dallas and Memphis for the eighth and final playoff seed in the West.
Hornacek can’t blame his offense for the team’s recent struggles. Phoenix has scored better than its season average over the last 10 games by dropping in 108.1 PPG. The defense, on the other hand, has been terrible. The Suns’ last 10 opponents have scored an average of 111.9 PPG on 51.9 percent shooting from the field and 40.7 percent shooting from 3-point range.