Game Preview: Celtics at Bobcats
BOSTON – Sunday was a long day for the Boston Celtics (27-23). As a result, Monday might be even longer.
Boston defeated the Denver Nuggets in triple overtime Sunday night at TD Garden in a game that required 41-plus minutes from five different Celtics. The team then boarded a plane and flew to Charlotte, where they’ll take on the Bobcats (11-39) at 7 p.m. tonight after a quick turnaround.
This might be the toughest turnaround the C’s have experienced all season. Sunday night’s game was physically and mentally draining for this team. Paul Pierce played more than 54 minutes, Kevin Garnett logged 47, Avery Bradley played 46 and Jason Terry played 42. Doc Rivers is most worried about the first two players in that list, but he admitted on Sunday that he won’t know how to handle Pierce, Garnett and Co.’s minutes against the Bobcats until tonight’s game begins.
“If we have to rest guys and play shorter minutes tomorrow (we will),” Rivers said after downing the Nuggets. “The only way I can do it is by my eyes. You’ll never know how guys feel until tomorrow.”
The general consensus is probably that guys won’t feel great. The Celtics invested everything they had in last night’s game. As Bradley said, Garnett stared his teammates down during the overtime sessions and told them, “We’re not going to lose this game.”
Garnett was correct but his assertion came at a cost. That cost may be tonight’s game.
Charlotte may have only 11 wins on the season but that total is not indicative of how tough these Bobcats are. Several lottery picks are on their roster and five Bobcats are scoring at least 12.2 points per game this season. Former University of Connecticut star Kemba Walker is the team’s leading scorer with 17.3 points a night.
Talent isn’t the only thing that makes playing the Bobcats a challenge. They also play hard – really hard.
First-year NBA head coach Mike Dunlap isn’t leading his team to wins but he is certainly inspiring his troops. Take a look at what Rivers said about the Bobcats leading up to these teams’ first meeting back on Jan. 14 in TD Garden.
“They play hard as hell,” said Rivers. “I mean listen, if you don’t play well against them, you’ll lose. They play extremely hard.”
Rivers brought that same sentiment up Sunday night when he said, “They just play so hard.”
Boston overcame Charlotte’s inspired play on Jan. 14 and logged a convincing 100-89 victory. The C’s led by as many as 18 points in that game while the Bobcats never held a lead.
Last night’s triple-overtime thriller will make it difficult for the Celtics to replicate that performance against the Bobcats last month. But don’t write Boston off just yet. It has been defying the odds throughout its seven-game winning streak and it wouldn’t be a shock if that trend continues tonight.
Make Walker a Bulk Shooter
Ben Gordon is much more efficient at the offensive end than Walker, but the Bobcats lean on Walker to be their their go-to scorer. That may be a good thing for the C’s.
Boston’s great defense could turn Walker into a very poor shooter. He’s already a below-average shooter with his 42.6 percent shooting clip and he hits less than 34 percent of his 3s. Those numbers have been even worse over his last five games, as Walker has shot just 37.3 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from 3-point range.
Boston would love for Walker to keep chucking tonight, as long as he continues his cold shooting. The bulk of this defensive assignment will fall on Bradley and Courtney Lee, and their goal will be to make Walker a high-volume, low-success shooter.
A Night for the Reserves
Rivers will want to leave his starters on the floor for their regular minutes tonight but the chances of that actually happening are slim to none. This will be a game in which the reserves must lead Boston to victory.
Jason Terry and Jeff Green each played more than 41 minutes off of the bench Sunday night so it’s conceivable that their minutes will be somewhat limited as well. This means that other reserves who saw limited action on Sunday, such as Leandro Barbosa (17 minutes) and Chris Wilcox (11 minutes), will be leaned on heavily tonight. Additionally, Lee, who played just 23 minutes on Sunday, may wind up playing closer to 40 minutes tonight. That trio must step up and perform well in relief of Boston’s top players.
Slow the Pace
The Celtics have been known for playing with a methodical pace over the past six seasons. They’ll run when given the opportunity, but they want to win in the half court. That’s what they must do tonight.
Sunday’s triple-overtime game and a full night of travel will have Boston’s gas tank only half full for tonight’s game. The Celtics will be able to use that gas efficiently if it can slow down the pace of this contest. It also doesn’t hurt that Charlotte also struggles to score in the half court. The Bobcats have averaged just 90.6 PPG on 40.7 percent shooting over their last five contests.
Slowing down the pace of this game will help the Celtics conserve their energy for the second half while at the same time giving their shutdown defense an opportunity to put the clamps on Charlotte’s offense.