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Boston Celtics (20-5) at Phoenix Suns (16-8) Game #26 12/7/22

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The Celtics continue their road trip as they take on the Suns in Phoenix. This is the 3rd game of the 6 game road trip. The Celtics are 2-0 so far on the trip. This is the first of 2 games between these two teams with the second game in Boston on February 3. The Suns and Celtics split the series 1-1 last season with each team winning on their home court.

The Celtics are first in the East, 2 games ahead of the 2nd place Milwaukee Bucks. They are 9-3 on the road and 8-2 in their last 10 games. They have won their last 2 games. They are 6-0 against Western Conference teams. The Suns are first in the West, half a game ahead of New Orleans and 2 game ahead of Memphis. They are 12-2 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 3-3 against Eastern Conference teams.

The Suns are playing in a single home game sandwiched in between a 2 game road trip and a 4 game road trip. They are coming off a 130-111 loss to the Mavs on Monday. The Suns are 35-10 in games following a loss, which is the best record in games following a loss of any team. The Celtics have lost their last 2 games in Phoenix. The Celtics are 74-59 overall all time against the Suns and they are 30-36 all time in games played in Phoenix.

The Celtics need to be ready to face the Suns best effort. First, this could be a finals preview between the best in the East and the best in the West. Also, the Suns lost on Monday and they usually bounce back with a big game after a loss. And finally, Devin Booker was held to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting against Dallas. He averaged 39 points per contest in the four games leading up to that loss and he will be looking to have a big game after that sub par outing against the Mavericks. They will also get a boost from the return of Chris Paul and Torrey Craig.

Malcolm Brogdon missed Monday’s game with a non-covid illness and is expected to play in this game. Marcus Smart missed Sunday’s game with a hip contusion but played on Monday and is also expected to play in this game. Al Horford was a late scratch and will miss the game Robert Williams III (knee) has practiced 5 on 5 but is still listed as out but is expected to return soon. Danilo Gallinari remains out with the ACL tear.

Chris Paul has missed the last 14 games for the Suns with a heel injury. He looked good in the Suns’ Tuesday practice and is expected to return for this game although the final decision will be a game time decision. Torrey Craig is also expected to return from a groin injury in this game. The final decision on his return will also be a game time decision.

Although not injured, Jae Crowder has not played for the Suns this season. He demanded a trade in training camp and, as yet, the Suns haven’t found a trade that they like for the former Celtic. Crowder remains away from the team and not playing. Cameron Johnson is out for 1 to 2 months with a torn meniscus. 2 Way player Duane Washington, Jr is out with a hip injury.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Malcolm Brogdon
Grant Williams
Sam Hauser
Payton Pritchard
Luke Kornet
Blake Griffin
Justin Jackson
Noah Vonleh

2 Way Players
JD Davison
Mfiondu Kabengele

Out/Injuries
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Robert Williams III (knee) out
Malcolm Brogdon (illness) available
Al Horford (covid) out

Head Coach (Interim)
Joe Mazzulla

Probable Suns Starters

Suns Reserves
Bismack Biyombo
Jock Landale
Damion Lee
Josh Okogie
Dario Saric
Landry Shamet
Cameron Payne

2 Way Players
Ish Wainright
Duane Washington, Jr

Out/Injuries
Torrey Craig (groin) available
Jae Crowder (not injury related) out
Cameron Johnson (knee) out
Chris Paul (heel) available
Duane Washington, Jr. (hip) out

Head Coach
Monty Williams

Key Matchups

Derrick White vs Devin Booker
Booker is playing very well this season. He is averaging 29.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.0 steals. He is shooting 48.8% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc. Between 11/28 and 12/2, he scored over 40 points in 3 straight games while shooting 66.7% from the field. He is averaging 27.6% from the field against the Celtics over his career. He scored 70 points in a game back in 2017. Needless to say, the Celtics need to defend him well to keep him from taking over the game.

Jaylen Brown vs Mikal Bridges
Bridges is averaging 16.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. He is shooting 51.6% from the field and 44.7% from beyond the arc. He has played in every game of his career thus far and he currently holds the NBA’s longest active Ironman streak with 333 consecutive games played. He is also a first team all defense player and will make things difficult for Jaylen on the offensive end.

Honorable Mention
Blake Griffin vs DeAndre Ayton
Ayton is averaging 17.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. He is shooting 62.2% from the field and 30.8% from beyond the arc. Ayton has improved quite a bit shooting threes and so the Celtics have to stay with him on the perimeter. They also need to keep Ayton out of the paint and off the boards. This will be a tough matchup without Horford. Hopefully Blake can step up once again.

Keys to the Game
Defense – Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 111.5 (15th) but have picked up their defense in the past couple of games. Hopefully they continue that trend in this game because the Suns are a good shooting team and the Celtics will need to up their defense if they want to beat the Suns at home. The Suns are 6th with an offensive rating of 110.2 and so the Celtics must make defense a priority if they want to win this game.

Rebound – The Celtics need to rebound on the offensive end to give themselves extra possessions and to prevent the Suns from racking up fast break points. They also have to crash the boards on the defensive end to prevent the Suns from getting tip ins and second chance points as the Suns are 10th with 14.6 second chance points per game. The Celtics are going to have to put out extra effort to win the battle of the boards in this one.

Take Care of the Ball – The Celtics need to move the ball but they also need to make careful passes and they need to be focused when they dribble and not turn the ball over. The Celtics can’t be careless against a Suns team that averages 19.4 points off turnovers per game. The Celtics must take care of the ball because the Suns are very good at making teams pay if they turn the ball over.

Play Hard 48 Minutes – The Celtics seem to have lapses where they let up on their effort and where they lose focus for awhile. Against the Raptors, the Celtics allowed the Raptors to play harder in the first half and they turned up their effort in the second half. They can’t afford to let the Suns play harder than them for any period of time. They must come out ready to play right from the opening tip and they have to play hard and stay focused through all 4 quarters right up until the final buzzer.

X-Factors
Road Fatigue – The Celtics are playing in the third game of a 6 game road trip. They have had a lot of travel and had to sleep in hotels and play in hostile arenas. This is their 3rd game in 4 nights and it would be understandable if their legs are tired and they are somewhat road weary. They have also changed time zones and may have a bit of jet lag. Can they find another gear and get a win in one of the toughest games of their trip?

Officiating – I know that I say this every game, but the officiating always has the possibility to be an x-factor in every game. Every crew calls the game differently, whether they call every little ticky tack foul or they let a lot of contact go and let the teams play. Some refs favor the home team and some call for both teams evenly. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called and not allow the officiating to take away from their focus. They did a good job of not allowing bad officiating in the Raptors game to take them out of the game and they need to continue to stay focused on the game and not on the officials.



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