The San Antonio Spurs return to the court for the first time since November 15th to host the Boston Celtics tonight. San Antonio enters the game on a seven-game winning streak and is first in the West with a 9-1 record. Boston is moving the other direction, however, dropping three-straight heading into last night's road-contest against Houston. After a four-game winning streak earlier in the season, Boston has fallen back down to earth with a roster that isn't talented or experienced enough to be a threat to the top teams in the league.
For a franchise as storied as Boston it is hard to imagine, but the Celtics are rebuilding under first-year head coach Brad Stevens. There seems to be more talk about Boston's front office and the challenges/options facing Danny Ainge and his crew than there is about the actual team that is on the floor. Most of those talks revolve around whether or not Boston will part ways with injured point guard Rajon Rondo or if the Celtics can find a team to dump salary and exchange expiring contracts with.
As it sits now, Boston is tied for the eighth-best record in the East at 4-8, but truth serum injected into Ainge and the fan base would probably reveal that the Celtics are better off missing the playoffs, building some space in cap room and figuring out what the long-term future of Rondo is or isn't before the season ends. The Celtics are playing for ping pong ball position as much as playoff position because the last place you want to be in the NBA is in the middle. Ask the Hawks.
The Celtics do have talent, however. Jeff Green is starting to look like a guy worthy of a high draft pick after dealing with some health issues following his trade from Oklahoma City a few years back. He is Boston's leading scorer with 15.5 points a game. Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass also average in double-digits for Boston, but scoring has been an issue for this squad all season. Boston is 24th in the NBA, scoring 94.2 points per game while giving up 97.7 points a game, which is seventh in the league.
One of the main reasons Boston is struggling to score is the point guard position. Without Rondo, Boston struggles when the team isn't moving the ball and picking up assists. During the four-game winning streak earlier in the season, the Celtics were averaging around 23 assists per game (which is what San Antonio is averaging for the season), but during the latest losing streak, Boston has been in the teens each game in the assist category. Guards like Crawford and Bradley are not consistent enough scorers to allow Boston to become a team focused on isolation.
Defensively Boston can be pesky. Bradley, who went for 27 points two games back against Minnesota, is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. Sixth-man Gerald Wallace leads the team with two steals a game and is known for his tough, physical style of play. As is Brandon Bass. The lack of athleticism around the rim is costly, however. Neither Kelly Olynyk nor Vitor Faverani controls the boards at the center position.
Boston can be one of those scary matchups for a team like the Spurs. The Celtics are a scrappy bunch capable of mucking up a game to the point of frustration. Boston won't be able to compete with San Antonio in a crisp, clean basketball game, but that won't be what this Celtics team tries to do tonight. Boston will look to spread the ball around, create mistakes and drag the Spurs into deep water late in the game. Unfortunately for the Celtics, the Spurs perfected that style of basketball and have the right pieces to win in any style of contest.
Matchup to watch: Manu Ginobili is still the man down the stretch at shooting guard for San Antonio, so I'm watching for a Manu vs. Bradley matchup when Manu tries to take it to the rim. San Antonio should have the advantage nearly everywhere else on the floor, but Bradley has his defensive reputation for a reason and I want to see how Manu responds to that kind of defender at this point in his career.
The Celtics perspective can be found here: Celtics Blog
Prediction: Spurs by 14
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
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