Celtics Host Spurs in Possible Finals Preview

San Antonio Spurs (29-4) at Boston Celtics (26-7)
Wednesday, January 5
7:30 PM ET
Regular Season Game #34,  Home Game #17
TV:  CSN-NE, FSSW-SA, NBA-LP 757/758
TD Garden  
Referees:  Bill Kennedy,  Brent Barnaky,  John Goble  
The Celtics and Spurs were both considered too old last season and this season they find themselves at the top of the league, with the Celtics leading the East and the Spurs leading the West.  The one big difference is that the Spurs have been healthy for the most part and the Celtics have been playing short handed the entire season so far.  This game is no different.  The Celtics are playing without Perk, Delonte and KG while the Spurs are almost at full strength with just James Anderson out. 

Last season, the two sides split the series 1‐1.  The C’s won their fourth straight game in San Antonio.   Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with an average of 16.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.  KG will certainly be missed in this game.   Rajon Rondo chipped in with 9.0 points and 9.5 assists per game.  Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with an average of 19.5
points while DeJuan Blair (12.5 points, 11.0 rebounds) and Tim Duncan (12.0 points, 12.0 rebounds) both added double‐doubles.

The Spurs are taking a page out of the Celtics book and winning with team play with 4 of the 5 starters averaging in double figures.  The Celtics lead the league with 24.5 assists per game while the Spurs are 4th, averaging 23.6 assists per game.  The Spurs use ball movement and team ball to beat their opponents just like the Celtics have done. 

Finally the Celtics catch another team on the second of back to back games while they have had the previous day off.  The Celtics have already had 8 back to back sets this season and they always seem to catch a rested and healthy team in the second game.  The Spurs lost to the Knicks on Tuesday night and this could be added motivation for the Spurs to win in Boston.   Pop sat his starters with over 3 minutes to go in a winnable game.  That will make his starters fresher for this game but also frustrated them as they sat on the bench throwing things and obviously very angry at being pulled from the game.   Also, the Spurs haven't lost 2 in a row all season.  After every loss they have bounced back to get a big win in their next game.
Not sure what the officiating assignments say for this game but Bill Kennedy is calling his 4th game already this season for the Celtics.   If you remember,  Bill Kennedy is the referee who taunted Doc into getting a technical a couple of years back. Kennedy was fined for his actions after that incident.   According to Tim Donaghy, Kennedy is gay and Doc questioned his sexuality in a game at one point and Kennedy has been out to get him ever since.  The Celtics have won 2 of the 3 games he has officiated so far but of the 3,  the Celtics had a free throw deficit.   Kennedy and 2 relatively new refs is an interesting crew for a big game like this one.

The Celtics have been playing some uninspired basketball since KG went down, barely getting by the Wolves and pouring it on at the end to defeat a Raptors team even more depleted then the Celtics.  Of course that may be as much playing down to the opponent than anything but one thing is for sure, if the Celtics want to win this one, they are going to have to bring their A game. 

Probable Starters
PG: Rajon Rondo   10.6 PPG   13.6 APG   2.2 SPG
SG:  Ray Allen   17.1 PPG 3.2 APG .436 3P%
SF:  Paul Pierce 19.0 PPG 5.3 RPG 3.7 APG
PF: Glen Davis 12.2 PPG  5.7 RPG 0.4 BPG
C:   Shaquille O'Neal 10.2 PPG 5.4 RPG 1.0 BPG

Boston Bench Mob
Marquis Daniels
Luke Harangody
Von Wafer
Avery Bradley 
Jermaine O'Neal
Semih Erden
Nate Robinson

Kendrick Perkins (knee) out
Delonte West (wrist)  out
Kevin Garnett (calf)  out

Probable Starters
PG:  Tony Parker  17.7 PPG  7.1 APG   1.4 SPG
SG:  Manu Ginobili  18.7 PPG  4.8 APG   .372 3P%
SF:  Richard Jefferson   13.4 PPG   4.5 RPG  1.5 APG
PF:  Tim Duncan   13.6 PPG  9.4 RPG  1.9 BPG
C:   Dejuan Blair  7.3 PPG   6.5 RPG   0.4 BPG 

George Hill
Matt Bonner
 Ime Udoka
Tiago Splitter
Gary Neal
Chris Quinn
Antonio McDyess

James Anderson  (finger)  out 

Key Matchups
Rajon Rondo vs Tony Parker
Rondo has been compared to Parker at times and this matchup will be a big challenge for both players.    When Rondo is aggressive and focused, he can pretty much take on any point guard in the league, including Parker.  Rondo usually gets up for big games and this is a big one.  The only question would be how close to 100% is Rondo at this point? 

Glen Davis vs Tim Duncan
Big Baby will have his hands full in this matchup. Duncan still brings a lot to the table, especially defensively and Big Baby can't try to do too much offensively if Duncan is blocking his shot or preventing him from getting good shots.  On the other end, Big Baby will need to get good position and stand his ground and keep Duncan away from the basket.

Honorable Mention
Ray Allen vs Manu Ginobili
I have to say that Ginobili is one of my least favorite players in the league.  He plays dirty and he also flops more than any player in the league.  Ray will need to watch out for his dirty tricks to avoid injury and early foul trouble if the refs fall for Ginobili's flops. 

Keys to the Game 
Defense - The Celtics must make defense a priority in this game.
The Spurs are having one of their best offensive seasons in franchise history. They are averaging 105.6 points per game this season.  The Celtics must defend the perimeter because they are shooting .400 from beyond the arc.  Matt Bonner ranks 2nd in the NBA in three-point
field goal percentage at .495  and Richard Jefferson ranks 16th at .432 while Gary Neal ranks 1st among rookies in three-point field goals
made.  Of course the Celtics must also defend the paint with Tim Duncan a threat to score inside along with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili who can get to the hoop pretty much at will.  

Focus - With the Spurs in town, the Celtics must keep their focus from the opening tip to the final buzzer.   The Spurs are very capable of taking advantage of any lack of focus on the Celtics part.  The Celtics have to come out strong as coming back from a big deficit would be very difficult against a strong defensive team like the Spurs.  Also, they have to play strong until the end of the game.  The Spurs won't let up and neither can the Celtics if they want to win this one.    Keeping their focus also includes taking care of the ball and not committing unforced turnovers. 

The Spurs are a good rebounding team and the Celtics need to concentrate on crashing the boards.  The Spurs are a top 5 rebounding team.   Without KG, the Celtics have not been rebounding as well as they should and have been out rebounded in 6 straight games.   The Wolves out rebounded the Celtics 45-30.  The Celtics must crash the boards and keep the Spurs from getting second chance points, which they do very well.  

Be Aggressive  When the Celtics are aggressive in going after loose balls, taking the ball to the hoop and playing in your face defense, they are very tough to beat.  When they get lazy and allow teams to beat them to loose balls and rebounds and when they settle for jumpers and don't go to the basket, they are very beatable.  They must stay aggressive. 

Home Court and Back to Back
For the Celtics, the x-factor could very well be playing on their home court and with the home crowd behind them.    For the Spurs,  playing in the second of back to back games may be the x-factor, even though their starters played only around 30 minutes last night.