The San Antonio Spurs (37-14) and the Boston Celtics (30-22) are set to face off tonight in what should be a thrilling game. The Spurs are coming off a demolishing of the Cavaliers last night (125-90) where most of the Spurs’ starters got significant rest while the Celtics have had two days off.
Celtics’ Ray Allen will be back in action tonight after dealing with an ankle injury which kept him out for six games.
“For me, personally, I felt good to be back out here,” Allen said after practice Tuesday. “My legs felt great. I had a shot in the ankle game day the other day and had all day to let it maneuver through my body. Coming in today I felt like I had two new wheels.”
Last season Boston swept San Antonio 2-0 and shot 57.9% from the field during those two games. Allen led the Celtics with 22.0 points per game. Tony Parker led the Spurs with 20.5 points and Tim Duncan added 19.0 points per game versus the Celtics last season.
But as these two division leaders get set to square off, and the Spurs look to stretch their winning streak to nine, I turn to friend of Project Spurs John Karalis of Red’s Army (the best site on the Internet for all things Celtics) to talk Spurs-Celtics.
In this Q&A, John talks about the Celtics surging after a slow start to the season, if Avery Bradley will be an issue for the Spurs, the Duncan-Garnett matchup and much more.
Jeff: At one point in the season, Boston looked out of sorts and looked like their best days were behind them. Now the team took a turn for the better and are surging. Defeating the Heat, taking the top spot in the Atlantic Division and look poised to shake things up in the East playoffs. What got into the team?
John: A couple of things. First, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett got into shape. They were surprised by the swift end to the lockout after the decertification and they came into camp out of shape. The first part of the season was a struggle for them because of that, but now they’re healthy and in shape, and it’s showing on the floor.
Second, they actually got lucky with a couple of injuries that revealed some good lineups for Doc Rivers. With Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley in the starting five, they have perhaps the best defensive backcourt in the league (with Bradley and Rondo) and two of the best mid-range shooting bigs (in Garnett and Bass). The C’s have been getting out on the break more and Rondo’s had a lot more space to work with. The numbers show the Celtics have vastly improved their pace from near the bottom of the league to within the top 10 since the All Star break. And Rondo only has two single-digit assist games since March 1.
The Spurs have one of the best guards in the NBA — Tony Parker. For Boston, Avery Bradley has been their best perimeter defender. Is this the key to stopping the Spurs’ attack? Avery stopping Tony before he gets rolling?
If Bradley starts (and that’s still a question if Ray Allen returns from injury), you’ll see him on Ginobili (or Green if he starts) before you see him on Parker. Regardless, with Rondo and Bradley in the back court, you’ll see a lot of pressure and an effort to destroy the Spurs offense at the point of attack.
Parker will present a big challenge to the C’s perimeter D. He’s extremely fast and that leaves a lot less margin for error than other point guards. There is much less time to recover when he gets by you. Any team that can keep Parker from turning the corner on a pick and roll will have a chance to beat the Spurs. Doc might bench the first guy that goes over the top of any screens set for TP.
The Spurs have one of the deepest benches in the NBA and last night, the Spurs blew out the Cavs by 35 points allowing the starters to rest. Though this is the Spurs second game of a back-to-back, will Boston try to just run on the Spurs to tire them out or take a different approach to handling San Antonio?
The Celtics have been winning their games recently thanks in part to fast starts. They have used defensive pressure early in games to get out and running… letting Rondo pick apart confused defenders in transition. Sometimes I feel like Rondo lives in The Matrix, moving at a different speed and seeing things that didn’t seem to exist… and that’s mostly due to his ability to create offensive order out the other team’s defensive chaos. So expect the C’s to push the tempo when possible not to run the Spurs out of the building on a back-to-back, but because that’s their best chance at success.
This game also will showcase another face off between two of the best forwards in the game — Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. With TD looking like he found some youth elixir and KG not looking spry anymore, is this matchup still a wash or is this a concern for Celtics fans?
KG’s not looking spry? Garnett is playing his best basketball of the season right now. Since moving to the center position about a month ago, he’s averaging almost 18 points and 9 rebounds. Nine of his 17 double-doubles have come in the past month, as have all three of his 20/10 games.
Maybe KG and Duncan have been drinking out of the same Gatorade jug, because Garnett has been one of the major reasons for the Celtics’ resurgence. If anything, this will be one last vintage matchup between two of the greatest big men the NBA has ever seen……. that is, until the NBA Finals.
Speaking of guards, Rajon Rondo is playing superb this season. I always feel he is a walking triple-double during any game. However, he will face Parker who is getting mentioned among MVP candidates. Who has the edge in this matchup?
I’m not sure you can give either guy an edge. Parker’s been great this year, but he’s playing a different game than Rondo. The Spurs need him to do different things. Rondo is dominating with his passing, which is more of what the Celtics need out of him. The Spurs have needed more scoring out of Parker, especially in those stretches without Manu Ginobili.
Bonus: Who wins tonight and why?
I think this will be a tight game. In the end, the Celtics are more rested and at home, and that gives them the edge. Yes, the Spurs got to rest guys thanks to a demolition of the Cavs, but they still had to travel after the game. While the Spurs were getting on a plane, the Celtics were in their own beds enjoying some rest after a much-needed practice. The Spurs have been hot, but the Celtics have been hotter, putting together the second-best post-All Star break record in the NBA.
This isn’t the same Celtics team that started the season. Any Spurs fans who go into this game thinking that are in for a surprise. This will come down to the wire, and the Celtics will come out on top.