The Boston Celtics will look to make a claim at the division lead against the Brooklyn Nets tonight
The most intriguing non playoff matchup of the regular season for the Boston Celtics, facing off against the Brooklyn Nets will always have the added incentive of the pick swap. Both teams benefit from their own winning of games, and both these teams benefit from their counterpart losing games, making the returning draft pick more valuable.
The Celtics finally got back to full strength, but there is a little worry with Jae Crowder. It may have just been soreness, but there is some uncertainty with his status for Wednesday’s game. The Celtics will surely be cautious against a Nets team that they can be very confident against.
Last time they faced off the Nets lead a furious comeback and almost shocked the Celtics in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics were without Marcus Smart or Kelly Olynyk. The second unit was a combined -14 on the night, and were the main reason the Nets were able to make a game out of it.
Al Horford has returned with two of his best games in a Celtics uniform, and the Celtics are starting to settle into the kind of team that was expected this offseason. The offense has been a huge improvement the whole season, and now the defense is starting to catch up.
With Horford’s presence in the paint, teams do not have a great weakness to attack on the Celtics. Brook Lopez is always the toughest matchup with the Nets, and Horford is their only player that can stand a chance defending him.
The Celtics should have no problem scoring on a team allowing opponents to shoot 35.8 percent from three point range, while also allowing the most assists per game in the league at 24.9. The Celtics have flourished with ball movement and are one of the teams most dependant on the three point shot in the league.
Isaiah `Thomas should have little resistance, and Smart should be able to get everyone comfortable and in rhythm with the second unit. Terry Rozier will also have a great opportunity to try and exploit a weak defensive team as well. If Smart starts in place of a potentially hurt Crowder, it will be his responsibility to get that advantage.
The Celtics cannot have a repeat of last game, and the Nets play at a great pace with opportunities to score in bunches. Brooklyn plays at the second highest pace in the NBA this season, significantly higher than the Celtics. The good news is that the Celtics have proven that they love to play with pace, and that will allow them to get plenty of minutes with their best small ball lineup with Thomas, Bradley, Smart, Crowder and Horford. It could hurt them defensively, but Jaylen Brown could also get valuable minutes on the court in that lineup.
The Celtics could still end up with some issues in the interior, particularly rebounding the ball. Offensive rebounds have blown up a couple games for the Celtics this season, and that could be one of the best ways for the Nets to try and steal a win. Over the past couple season the Nets have managed to play the Celtics well. This season, however, the best fourth quarter differential in the league should seal the deal in this matchup.
Both Lopez and even more so, Trevor Booker could cause a lot of problems for the Celtics on the boards. The Celtics are going to embrace the high pace, and losing opportunities on the boards could put too much strain on their shooting.
With the Raptors’ recent slump, the Celtics find themselves tied for a division lead. They are yet to string together a significant amount of wins a row this season, and tonight they need to be able to get that third straight victory. The Celtics can find themselves in a great position heading into the all star break, but that requires no hiccups against inferior teams like the Nets.
With Jeremy Lin injured, the Celtics have nothing to fear in their back court, and that goes for both offense and defense. The Celtics have been much improved on the defensive end, and with Horford in the lineup they have been one of the strongest teams in the league.
The Celtics should be able to exploit them with their aggressive defense, and generate more than enough turnovers to run away from the Nets in transition.
The Nets have been struggling lately and while Horford has looked great in his return, the Celtics still struggled tremendously for the first three quarters, and the Nets will always play hard enough to take advantage of a struggling team.
These are the kinds of games that the Celtics cannot be dropping ,and with the Raptors up against the Rockets, the Celtics have an opportunity to take their first lead in the Atlantic Division of the season.