The Boston Celtics are rolling through their schedule right now, and it's not surprising. They're talented and you'd expect them to torture opponents when they're at full strength. The question from now until the Big Three retire is always going to be, however, how long until one or more of them gets hurt. For our purposes, though, it's a mixed blessing that they'll be at full strength tonight at the Wach. I'll explain after the jump.
Through three games we've seen the Sixers execute offensively against one of the worst defensive teams in the league (doesn't mean much). We've seen them execute offensively against the best defensive team from last season, but they were missing Rashard Lewis and a late run probably skewed the numbers (doesn't mean much). We've seen them execute defensively against a very poor Bucks team (doesn't mean much). Tonight's game should have meaning, good or bad, tonight's game should tell us where this team is at in certain areas.
The matchups and possibilities are intriguing, let's take a look:
- Newly flush Rajon Rondo, vs. the most proficient offensive player in the league thus far, Lou Williams - Rondo is a gambling menace on the defensive end of the floor, often eschewing fundamental defense for a reach from behind to poke the ball loose. He has excellent strength for the position and he will wreak havoc in the passing lanes as well. Does he have the footspeed to keep Lou in front of him off the dribble? Maybe. Will he? Probably not. Does it matter? I don't really think so. Lou's game is less about breaking people's ankles at the top of the key these days. The best thing Lou can do on that end of the floor tonight is run Rondo ragged (alliteration Tuesday!) as he goes through the movements of the PO off the ball. On the other end of the floor, Rondo has a weakness and you absolutely must exploit it. The guy flat out cannot shoot. He can't shoot jumpers and he can't shoot free throws. In fact, he hasn't even attempted a free throw yet this season. That has to change tonight. Go under every single screen, play him loose on the perimeter, but not so loose that you give him a driving lane, and when he gets to the rim, foul him hard. Make him earn his points at the line. Penetration will probably be a problem again tonight, but there are ways to deal with Rondo, just play smart and make him beat you with his weaknesses, rather than his strengths.
- Matchups on the wings - Let's be clear, Ray Allen cannot guard Andre Iguodala. Ray Allen cannot guard Thad Young. They're both too big for him, Iguodala is too quick for him. However the Celts decide to play this, the Sixers absolutely must exploit the mismatch. Expect heavy minutes for Marquis Daniels if they do, and that's a very good thing for the Sixers. On the other end of the floor, one of Ray Allen/Paul Pierce is going to have a mismatch. Thad is too inexperienced to effectively cover either of them right now in this offense. Iguodala can, and will, hold his own against both. Coach Jordan is going to have to pick his poison among the starters. Thad on Pierce will probably result in a parade to the foul line, ton of points for Pierce and limited minutes for Thad. Thad on Allen will probably result in too many open looks for one of the deadliest three-point shooters in the league. Iguodala had two very bad games against BOS early last year, and two very good games vs. Boston late in the season. If this has any chance of being a win, Iguodala is going to have to at least match the production of Pierce or Allen (whichever one Thad winds up covering)
- The Humbled Giants - Elton Brand has not yet rounded into form. Neither has Kevin Garnett. Their numbers are very similar to this point. The scoring numbers are down, the rebounding numbers are down. The silver lining for Brand is that he's still getting to the line, meaning he's attacking on offense. Garnett, on the other hand, is at about 30% of the FTA/36 minutes he'd earn in his prime. What does this mean? Well, I take it as meaning that Kevin Garnett has turned into a 15-foot jump shooter on the offensive end, and very little more. This is good news and bad news for the Sixers. Good because the Celts lack a post threat if Garnett simply isn't going down there. Bad because Brand has struggled covering fours on the perimeter. Garnett's range doesn't extend to three-point range, so it's not that big of an issue, thankfully (when Sheed comes in, things take a turn for the worse on the defensive end.) When the Sixers have the ball, even a hobbled Garnett is long enough to give Brand fits on the post. The Sixers need to take advantage of Garnett's gimpy-ness in less direct ways. When he's helping on-the-ball, he's not going to be quick enough to get back to his man as he used to be. Put him in pick-and-pop situations with either Speights or Brand (these should lead to open jumpers either guy can hit).
- The Centers - Ask anyone in the mainstream media who the better center is in this matchup, and they'll all tell you Kendrick Perkins. Their career numbers don't back that up, however. Even if you look at last year's numbers alone, they're awfully close. Two things hold Perkins back, his rebounding numbers (9.6/36 minutes) and his insanely high turnover rate. Perkins averages 2.6 TOV/36 minutes for his career, making Sam's 2.1 seem somehow acceptable. We need Sam to stay on the floor, keep Perkins off the offensive glass and protect the rim when Rondo gets into the lane. That's it. If he can accomplish those three things, this will be a successful game for him and we'll have the advantage at the five.
- The Benches - If there's one guy on the Sixers who won't back down to Kevin Garnett's tantrums and juvenile attempts at intimidation, it's Marreese Speights. It could be that he doesn't know any better, it could be that he's immature and excitable himself, but if Garnett decides to get in the kid's face, sparks will fly. Speaking of flying, I don't see Perkins, Garnett or Sheed as being able to hang with Speights' athleticism. Expect points galore from Speights. The rest of the bench, however, is a liability. Someone needs to stick with House, and it's not going to be Willie Green. Kapono will get abused by either Pierce or Allen. Ivey may be able to harass Rondo into a couple of TOs, but he's a zero on offense. I'd love to see we'll get to see what Jrue can do against Rondo, but I've given up on expecting to see the rook in an actual game. It's going to take heavy minutes from our top 6 to even have a chance in this one. They've had two days to rest, and they have two more days off after this one, so maybe we'll see the important guys extended.
Keys to the game: Ultimately, this game will come down to two things. How well will the Sixers defend the perimeter (especially in transition and off broken plays/offensive rebounds)? And will the offense remain efficient against a potent defensive team?
If __________________ the Sixers will win: The Celtics turn the ball over 20 times.
This is your game thread, I'll be here throughout so join me for the in-game discussion. 3-1 would be a nice way to start the season.