Watch It! - Nets at Celtics
Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.
Nets Clicking at Both Ends
Remember when the Brooklyn Nets were a complete failure? Yeah, those days are far in the past. This team is now humming as it heads into the stretch run of its season.
Brooklyn is 20-8 in 2014 and has climbed all the way up to the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Nets could conceivably make their way to the No. 3 seed by the time the regular season concludes, as it is currently only three games out of that slot.
Stellar play at both ends of the court has helped the Nets win four consecutive games heading into tonight’s matchup. They have won those four games by an average of 14.3 points while allowing opponents to shoot just 43 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from long range. At the other end of the court, Brooklyn has been scoring with ease. It has shot 47.4 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from downtown over its last four.
Bounce-Back Game for Sully?
Jared Sullinger has played two games since returning from a concussion but he hasn’t quite looked like himself. Sullinger, who logged a double-double in six of his final eight games before the concussion, has averaged just 10.5 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game since returning. No. 7 made just one of his seven shot attempts Wednesday night against Golden State.
One of the factors that may be playing a role in the big man’s lack of production is the fact that he is now coming off the bench. He was a full-time starter prior to the injury but has come off the bench the last two games to average just 25 minutes of action.
There’s a very good chance that Sullinger may return to the starting lineup tonight. If he does, he’ll be facing off against rookie Mason Plumlee. Plumlee is not known as a great defender and he struggles at times in the pick-and-roll. We may see quite a few Rondo-Sullinger pick-and-rolls tonight, which could set Boston’s big man up for a nice bounce-back game.
No KG for Brooklyn
TD Garden was full of emotions when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett returned to Boston for the first time on Jan. 26. There will likely be some emotions again tonight as Pierce makes his return, but Garnett will not be serenaded by any cheers from the Garden crowd.
Garnett did not travel with the Nets and will miss his fourth consecutive game tonight due to back spasms. He has not logged more than 20 minutes of action since Feb. 13.
Though Brooklyn has won its last three games without Garnett, it’s surely a blow for the Nets to be missing his presence. KG is a game-changer on defense; the Nets limit opponents to 43 percent shooting while he’s on the floor as opposed to 46.6 percent shooting while he’s on the pine.
Boston’s crowd will be upset that Garnett isn’t in town, but the Celtics surely won’t be.
Take Care of the Ball
Wednesday’s loss at the hands of the Warriors was mired by way too many turnovers by the Celtics. Boston committed 22 of them, which led to 24 points for Golden State.
The Celtics cannot allow such sloppy play to be a part of their performance tonight. Brooklyn has been feasting on opponents’ miscues of late, grabbing an insane average of nearly 15 steals per game over its last four contests.
There’s no doubt that with three former All-Stars in its lineup, Brooklyn has the edge over Boston in the talent department. When a team is at a disadvantage in that area, as the Celtics will be tonight, it simply cannot afford to give the opponent extra possessions via turnovers.
Bass Defending Pierce
Brooklyn has gone with a small lineup that features Joe Johnson at small forward and Pierce at power forward. If Boston goes with Brandon Bass as its starting big man alongside either Sullinger or Kris Humphries, that means he’ll wind up defending his former captain for the majority of the night.
Bass actually held his own, and then some, in this matchup back in January. He began the game as Boston’s primary defender on Pierce and helped to limit No. 34 to 2-of-10 shooting on the night.
The Celtics would love to see a similar defensive performance put forth tonight by Bass. He may need to extend himself out to the 3-point line, though, because Pierce has been shooting better than 40 percent from long range over the last five weeks.