Monday night’s 126-104 win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Spurs, who will now hit the road for a 4-game road trip that will put them up against 3 of the top 4 seeds in the Eastern Conference. First up on that schedule is the 2nd place Boston Celtics, who have far exceeded the preseason expectations of them being a good but not great team.
Just a year removed from the Kyrie Irving debacle, these Celtics, built on a foundation of switchy, do-it-all perimeter players, sport a top 10 offense (111.5 Offensive Rating, 7th) and a top 5 defense (104.2, 3rd). The free agent signing of All Star guard Kemba Walker, combined with a bounce back year from Gordon Hayward and the continued growth of wing players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been the key ingredients to a 25-9 record that has them on pace for 55 wins.
The Spurs dropped the first meeting of the season, a 135-115 drubbing at home that kicked off an 8-game losing streak in November. They’ll be looking to kick off this tough road trip with a good start by once again atoning for a loss.
San Antonio Spurs (14-20) @ Boston Celtics (25-9)
January 8, 2020 | 6:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: None
Celtics Injuries: Kemba Walker (illness — questionable), Daniel Theis (left knee soreness — questionable), Romeo Langford (illness — OUT), Robert Williams (hip — OUT), Vincent Poirier (finger — OUT)
The Spurs need to beware Boston’s hunger tonight
The last 3 games for Boston have been against much lesser teams in the Eastern Conference. The struggled to put away the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls and finally lost Monday night against a poor Washington Wizards team. That game featured some ugly shooting throughout the whole roster, as Boston failed to make more than 35% of their shots.
It’s important to note that Boston has been without Kemba Walker during this 3-game stretch. Walker, who is recovering from the flu, could finally feel healthy enough to go tonight. That, combined with the familiar feeling of home court and what surely must be a desire to play better than they have as of late by the rest of the team, could prove to be a dangerous combination against the Spurs. They’ll have to bring the focus and energy that they brought against Milwaukee and play a full 48 minutes.
Dejounte Murray finding his confidence as a 3-point shooter and what it means for the Spurs
After a shaky start that may have saw him lose his confidence somewhat, the Spurs’ young point guard has been on fire lately from behind the line. In his last 10 games Murray, who struggled with his outside shot early on this season, is shooting 10/17 from the 3-point line. He was 3/4 from 3 in the win against Milwaukee, looking supremely confident in his shot mechanics:
Look at how confident Dejounte Murray is in his jumper here. No hesitation, form looks good, and the follow through is textbook. pic.twitter.com/W1NYEczXzV— Basketball Watch (@BasketballWatc1) January 8, 2020
With LaMarcus Aldridge already showing a willingness to step out a bit more, Murray’s recent hot streak could be another key piece to making this puzzle that is the 2019-2020 Spurs team make some sense. Not only will it make the court much more open for his teammates to operate in, but it will also open up his own game, allowing him to score and make plays in a variety of ways that just weren’t there before because teams had no reason to respect his jump shot.
This Boston defense is no joke
As mentioned earlier, the Celtics come into tonight sporting the 3rd best defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) in the entire league. They’re also 1st in opponent’s points per game, 1st in number of opponent’s field goals made, and 4th in opponent field goal percentage. They also cause 15.9 turnovers per game, which is good enough for 6th in the NBA. More often than not, they play tough and focused defense that is high on activity and communication, something that is on display throughout the entirety of this video:
The Spurs must move the ball with purpose and be decisive in whatever it is they’re going to do. That means not getting caught in the air not knowing if they’re going to shoot the ball or pass it and not standing in place or clogging up spacing. Boston held the Spurs to just 39% shooting from the field and was also able to turn 15 turnovers into 19 points in their blow-out win against them in November.
If they can clean up some of the miscues and work to get some clean looks, they should have much more success tonight against what has proved to be a tough Bean Town defense.
Vegas Line: Celtics by 6.5
For the Celtics fans’ perspective, visit Celtics Blog.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.