Celtics Hoping JO Will Be Lucky Charm vs Spurs

Boston Celtics (51-22) at San Antonio Spurs (57-17)
Thursday, March 31
8:00 PM ET
Regular Season Game #74, Road Game #37
Radio:  WEEI, WOAI
AT&T Center
Referees:  Dan Crawford, Tony Brothers, Violet Palmer
The Spurs went most of the season without injuries to any of their starters while the Celtics have battled injuries all year long.  The injury bug has finally caught up to the Spurs who played without 4 of their starters on Tuesday in a home loss to Portland.  Both teams are expecting injured players to return to the rosters for this game.  . 

All  4 of the injured Spurs practiced on Wednesday.   Tony Parker is listed as probable and Antonio McDyess is expected to play.   Both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are listed as possible and will be game time decisions.  Greg Popovich said that both are close and that he wouldn't tip his hand as to whether or not they will play.       The Celtics may get a long awaited boost as Jermaine O'Neal has targeted this game for his return to the court.  After a good practice on Wednesday, he is also listed as probable. Doc said that he looked very good in practice, but there's bound to be a lot of rust.  

The Celtics are up 1-0 in the series after a 2 point win in the Garden back in January.  Ginobili led the Spurs with 24 points and 8 rebounds in that one.  The Celtics played that game without KG and Delonte West, however, both O'Neals played 20+ minutes in that game.   Ray Allen came up big for the Celtics as they went to him early and often and he finished with 31 points.  Rondo had a triple double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 22 assists.  With both Ray and Rondo struggling in recent games, the Celtics it's a long shot that they will get anywhere close to that kind of production from them in this game.

The Spurs have lost 4 in a row for the first time this season and will be motivated to end that streak in this game.  Their once 7 game lead over 2nd place in the West is down to 3.5 games over the surging Lakers.  The Celtics have dropped to 2.5 game behind Chicago for the top spot and they are tied with Miami for the second seed.  Both Miami and Chicago are idle tonight with the Bulls playing Detroit and Heat playing the Wolves on Friday.   Both teams should have some urgency as playoff position is at stake. 

The Celtics have been struggling and have lost to several teams recently that they should have beaten.  The Spurs have lost 4 in a row since Tim Duncan went out with the ankle injury.  The Celtics have dropped 3 of their last 4, all of which should have been very winnable games.   Both teams are on the first of back to back games with the Spurs facing Houston and the Celtics moving on to Atlanta.  The Celtics have won the last 4 meetings in San Antonio.   Hopefully the extra day of practice and the return of Jermaine O'Neal will give the Celtics the boost they need to get back on track and pull out a win. 

Probable Starters
PG: Rajon Rondo   10.4 PPG   11.3 APG   2.3 SPG
SG:  Ray Allen   17.0 PPG  2.7 APG  .452 3P%
SF:  Paul Pierce 18.7 PPG 5.1 RPG 3.3 APG
PF: Kevin Garnett  14.7 PPG  9.0 RPG 0.8 BPG
C:  Nenad Krstic  8.2 PPG  4.8 RPG  0.3 BPG

Boston Bench Mob
Glen Davis
Jeff Green
Delonte West
Sasha Pavlovic
Carlos Arroyo
Avery Bradley
Jermaine O'Neal

Shaquille O'Neal (Achilles) out
Von Wafer (calf) questionable
Jermaine O'Neal (knee) probable
Troy Murphy (ankle) questionable


Probable Starters
PG:  Tony Parker  17.5 PPG  6.6 APG  1.2 SPG
SG: Manu Ginobili  17.8 PPG  5.0 APG   .351 3P%
SF:  Richard Jefferson   11.1 PPG   3.9 RPG  1.3 APG
PF: Tim Duncan     13.3 PPG  9.0 RPG  1.9 BPG
C:  Antonio McDyess  5.2 PPG   5.3 RPG   0.5 BPG

Matt Bonner
Gary Neal
Chris Quinn
DeJuan Blair
Steve Novak
Daniel Green
Da'Sean Butler
George Hill

Antonio McDyess (back) probable
Tony Parker (knee) probable
Tim Duncan (ankle) possible
Manu Ginobili (thigh) possible

Key Matchups
Rajon Rondo vs Tony Parker 
After missing a game and being originally counted out for the second game, Rajon Rondo made a surprise start and showed some signs of snapping out of his slump.  The Celtics need him to continue to play well and be aggressive in leading the offense.  Instead of George Hill, Rondo will be facing Tony Parker.  Playing a top level PG usually is motivation for Rondo to play well and hopefully that will be the case in this game.

Paul Pierce vs Richard Jefferson
This matchup has been a good one going back to Jefferson's days on the Nets.  With the injury bug finally hitting the Spurs, Jefferson was the only regular starter to play in the Spurs last game.  Pierce had a good game vs the Pacers and hopefully that will continue in this game as well.

Honorable Mention
Ray Allen vs  Manu Ginobili
Greg Popovich has said that Ginobili is possible for this game but that it would be a game time decision.  Ginobili practiced yesterday and so I would be surprised if he doesn't  play.  Ray scored a game high 31 in the last meeting between these teams but has struggled recently with the Celtics lack of ball movement.  The Celtics need to get Ray involved early in this game.  Chasing Ray though screens should take some of the energy out of Ginobili's offensive game as well, especially coming off an injury.
Kevin Garnett vs Tim Duncan
With word coming out that Tim Duncan will be playing, this becomes a key matchup.  Even though Duncan's production is down this season, his importance to the team is as great as ever, as seen by the fact that the Spurs lost all 4 games that he missed.   It will be important for KG to win this matchup and keep Duncan out of his game while lifting the Celtics with his own play at the same time.   The Celtics need KG to play well and set the tone on the defensive end.

Keys to the Game  
Defense - The Celtics must make defense a priority in this game and every game.  The Spurs are having one of their best offensive seasons in franchise history and the Celtics will need to play defense for 48 minutes and not just in spurts as they have been doing recently.   The Celtics especially need to guard the perimeter as the Spurs are shooting .402 from beyond the arc as a team, which is tops in the league.

Focus - The Spurs are very capable of taking advantage of any lack of focus on the Celtics part, even missing some of their key players.  The Celtics have to come out strong and they have to stay focused 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 Celtics also can't get complacent if they have a lead.  The Spurs have won 11 games this season in which they came back from a double digit deficit.  

  -  The Spurs are a good rebounding team and the Celtics need to concentrate on crashing the boards. The Celtics have not been rebounding as well as they should.  They have been outrebounded in their last 4 games, 3 of which were losses.    The Pacers out rebounded the Celtics 36-29, which should never happen.  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.

Ubuntu - The Celtics have gotten away from playing team ball in recent games.  They have been playing too much one on one and not moving the ball and making the extra pass to find the open man.  When the ball isn't moving, Ray also doesn't get the ball and can't get into a rhythm and that removes a key weapon for the Celtics.  Lack of ball movement would explain Ray's struggles and the fact that the Celtics are ranked 30th in offense over their last 5 games.   The Celtics have to get back to the principles of ubuntu and playing together as a team.

Official Report
Dan Crawford
Dan Crawford has been a referee in the NBA since the 1984-85 season. Prior to the NBA, Crawford officiated in high school for 12 years, 8 years at the collegiate level (MVC and CCAC) and 4 years in the CBA. He has officiated 1,600+ regular season games, 190+ play-off games and 18 NBA Finals games. After one of the games in Chicago in round 1 in 2008, there was some controversy when he was seen leaving the arena with his family all decked out in Chicago Bulls gear. The Celtics are 4-0 this season and are 6-4 over their last 10 game with Crawford officiating. The Spurs are 2-3 this season and 7-3 in their last 10 games with Crawford. Crawford is a homer ref with a home team W/L record of 46-17.

Tony Brothers
Tony Brothers started his NBA career 14 years ago. He has officiated 21 playoff games. Before landing in the NBA he acquired officiating experience in the CBA, college basketball and high school basketball in Virginia. There are several articles about what a terrible ref Brothers is and detailing his misdeeds. He has angered a lot of fans of just about every team because of bad calls, no calls, and one sided officiating. The Celtics are 3-1 this season and 6-4 in their last 10 games with Brothers on the court. The Spurs are 3-2 this season and 6-4 with Brothers in their last 10. His home W/L record this season is 35-23.

Violet Palmer
Violet Palmer is the only woman officiating in the NBA. She has been there for 11 seasons already. Before the NBA, she accumulated officiating experience including 1 season in the WNBA, 7 years of USA basketball, 2 years in the CBA and 8 years as a collegiate referee. At one time Violet was the worst ref in the league. In one game Cedric Maxwell was moved to urge her to go back into the kitchen because her calls were so bad. She has had Tommy close to exploding over the years as well. She's improved a lot over the years and is no longer the worst ref in the league (that honor goes to Bennett Salvatore) but she's still bad. Although, after getting a hug from Pierce after he ran into her in win over the Pacers, the Celtics took 20 more free throws than the Pacers. The Celtics are 2-1 this season and 6-4 over their last 10 games with Violet on the court. The Spurs are 0-3 this season and 6-4 over their last 10 with Violet. Her home W/L record this season is 32-21.

Mental Toughness
The Celtics have been going through some tough times in recent games and they will need a lot of mental toughness to get back to winning as a team.