Boston Celtics vs. Phoenix Suns: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Boston has managed to stay in the playoff race despite season-ending injuries to key players like Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger, while Phoenix is dead last in the Western Conference in what has become a lost season.
It also does not help that the Suns lost to the Celtics at TD Garden on Jan. 9, but fans should not be so quick to count them out.
Not only has Boston struggled mightily on the road this year, going 8-17, but Phoenix has gone a somewhat respectable 12-13 at home.
Just the same, the Suns are a young team lacking a solid leader, and losing five of their last six shows it. Since Lindsey Hunter replaced Alvin Gentry as head coach, the team has gone just 5-9.
They'll need to get hot from the get-go in order to have a shot at the Celtics' tough defense, and can only hope that their youth is able to outscore Boston's aging veterans. Otherwise, it could be one long night in the desert.
Time: Friday, Feb. 22, 9 p.m. EST
TV: CSN HD, Fox Sports Arizona HD
Records: Boston Celtics (28-26) vs. Phoenix Suns (18-37)
Betting Line: Not available as of Thursday, Feb. 21, 10:33 a.m. EST
Injuries: Rajon Rondo (knee, out), Leandro Barbosa (knee, out), Jared Sullinger (back, out), Channing Frye (heart, out), via ESPN.
Key Storyline: Young Phoenix Seeks Upset Over Aging Boston
When the Suns visited the Celtics in January, neither team really put up a strong performance. Boston shot 45 percent from the field, but just 21 percent from three-point territory and was out-rebounded 47-42.
The Suns were no better, shooting 39 percent from the floor and just 17 percent from long range. The Celtics pulled off an ugly 87-79 victory, led by 14 points from Jeff Green.
On Phoenix's end, Luis Scola led with 16 points.
But that game was at TD Garden, and the Suns have gone just 6-24 on the road this season. The scene has now shifted to the US Airways Center, and the Celtics' road woes this season have been notable.
This means that the struggling and underachieving Suns are in a prime position to pull off a huge victory against the experienced Celtics.
The offense must be strong and cohesive, and the team's weak defense must do everything in its power to slow down Boston's sluggish offense and beat its weak interior game.
A win won't mean a bright future in Phoenix, but it would certainly give the fans something to smile about.
Key Matchup: Kevin Garnett vs. Marcin Gortat
The Celtics are the second-worst rebounding team in the league, which would explain why Phoenix was superior in that department when the teams first faced off.
Regardless of what happened, it does not change the fact that Kevin Garnett is a far better center than Marcin Gortat.
Even at 36 years old, with 37 fast approaching, Garnett has been excellent in stepping up his effort in the face of season-ending injuries to his teammates. Blessed with good size at 6'11", 253 pounds, he has posted 15 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Garnett has also been solid over his last five games, averaging 14.4 points and 11 rebounds to go with 1.2 blocks per game.
The man is in his 18th NBA season, and must use that experience to take 29-year-old Gortat to school.
Gortat also has good size for his position at 6'11", 240 pounds, but playing consistently strong defense is not his strong suit. He has averaged 11.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, but tends to get torched when against elite centers.
Moreover, Gortat has not performed well over his last five games. Through that stretch, he has posted just 6.4 points and 5.6 boards per game.
Garnett needs to take full advantage of Gortat's cold streak, using both his jump shot and low post game to frustrate the living daylights out of his opponent. Defensively, he cannot allow Gortat any opportunities in the high or low post.
Interior defense is going to be the name of the game against Phoenix and, though Boston is fairly weak in that department, Garnett can at least make sure that they look respectable on the inside by shutting Gortat down.
X-Factor: Jeff Green
Whichever team has the better spark to complement their game in the paint will walk away with the victory, and the Celtics have a great one in Green.
The former Georgetown Hoya has been a dynamic and athletic force off the bench in Boston this year, averaging 10.6 points and shooting 35 percent from long range.
Green is also a fantastic dunker, and the Suns' weak defense should provide him plenty of opportunities to drive the lane and rise up for a thunderous slam. He should have plenty of gas left in the tank for a good performance in Phoenix.
In his last five games, Green has posted 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while shooting 52 percent from the floor and an incredible 42 percent from long range.
Simply put, the Celtics need him to have that kind of performance against Phoenix, if not something better. He has good size at 6'9", 235 pounds, and his great athleticism is going to be key in Boston pulling off a rare road win.
So long as he can pick his shots carefully and not get too crazy with the ball, Green should definitely be able to play a key role in a Boston victory.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Avery Bradley
SG: Courtney Lee
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Brandon Bass
C: Kevin Garnett
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Jared Dudley
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Luis Scola
C: Marcin Gortat
The Celtics' last win against Phoenix may have been an ugly one, but the team will enter this game with a more balanced attack. Since Boston has far more experience on the roster, the Suns will lose at home and be the victim of a season series sweep.
Pick your winner!
Garnett will have a double-double and handily defeat Gortat in the paint, while Paul Pierce sinks clutch shot after clutch shot in the second half. In the third quarter, Jason Terry will sink key three-pointers that further ice the game for the Celtics.
However, in the face of a Suns run led by Michael Beasley toward the end of the third quarter, look for Green to come alive. He will sink threes, drive the lane, and unleash a highlight reel-worthy dunk on Gortat that easily becomes a candidate for dunk of the year.
That and the rest of his game will shift the momentum in Boston's favor, and snap the team out of the funk that has seen it lose three of its last four.
Boston Celtics 93, Phoenix Suns 84
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