In the midst of the hoopla surrounding the NFL playoffs, college bowl games and the numerous coaching changes taking place, one of the most anticipated matchups of the NBA season is fast approaching. The Boston Celtics are preparing to take on the San Antonio Spurs at the TD Garden on Wednesday, January 5.
The Spurs enter the game with the best record in the NBA, currently sitting at 29-5. The Celtics cling to the best record in the Eastern Conference, currently holding a 26-7 record and holding a half-game lead over the red-hot Miami Heat.
With the Spurs playing solid, consistent basketball, and with a largely healthy team, they face a Boston team playing without Kevin Garnett, who is currently nursing a calf strain and will be out for at least a couple of weeks. However, star point guard Rajon Rondo has returned for the Green after missing several weeks with an ankle injury.
With their floor general back, Boston will regain a huge weapon on their offense, and will look to use their solid defense to slow down a hot San Antonio squad. This is definitely a good offense vs. defense matchup, and it will be interesting to see which side can pull out the victory.
Let's take a look at how these teams stack up.
The Spurs bring a powerful scoring offense into this game, averaging 105.6 points per game, good enough for fourth best in the league. Although not billed as such, the Spurs are led by a sort of Big Three of their own, led by Manu Ginobili, averaging 18.7 points per game, Tony Parker, with 17.7 points per game and storied veteran Tim Duncan, managing 13.6 points per game.
San Antonio enters the game with a squad as deep as the Celtics, featuring strong contributors like Richard Jefferson (13.4 PPG) and George Hill (11.5 PPG).
The Spurs are also strong in the rebounding category, averaging 42.9 rebounds per game, good for eighth best in the NBA. Duncan leads the team with 9.4 rebounds per game, and followed by DeJuan Blair, with 6.5 per game. With additional post support by Antonio McDyess (4.8 RPG), the Spurs represent a unique challenge for the Celtics, who must find ways to negate San Antonio's strong interior presence.
Boston enters the game averaging a 15th best 98.6 points per game, and although they lack statistically, and are without KG's 15.0 points per game, they have the potential to score much more, especially in a big game. With a such a strong presence by the Spurs, the Celtics may have to look to the outside for scoring. Paul Pierce leads the way with 19.0 points per game, followed by Ray Allen (17.1 PPG). Pierce and Allen both have excellent outside shooting ability, and may have to carry much of the shooting from the field.
If the Celtics go inside, they have weapons in Glen Davis (12.2 PPG) and Shaquille O'Neal (10.6 PPG). Not only can they score inside, they can move the ball inside-out and facilitate outside shooting. Rondo adds 10.2 points per game in the form of drives to the hoop and the occasional jumpshot. Nate Robinson (8.0 PPG) adds additional scoring opportunity.
Despite only grabbing an average of 39.0 rebounds per game, 28th best in the league, and being without Garnett, who is grabbing 9.5 rebounds per game, Boston has interior power to match the Spurs in the form of Davis (5.7 RPG), Shaq (5.4 RPG), and Jermaine O'Neal (3.8 RPG). Although the raw numbers clearly favor the Spurs, the O'Neals and Davis create a lot of space down low and clear the way for additional inside scoring opportunities, including chances in the lane for Pierce, Allen, and Rondo.
There may not be the Duncan vs. Garnett battle that many hoped for at the beginning of the season, but there will be an excellent battle over offensive supremacy between each team's weapons.
This will certainly be an epic battle of point guards.
Tony Parker continues to run San Antonio's offense, playing very well, even in the face of personal adversity. In addition to his aforementioned scoring ability, he is averaging 7.1 assists per game, creating opportunities across the floor.
Parker remains an integral part of the offense, and will, as always, be a tough act to follow. He fits well within San Antonio's offense, with a strong combination of scoring and assists.
Rajon Rondo, although far less of a scorer, has shown himself to be the ultimate facilitator, averaging a whopping 13.6 assists per game. Rondo has a high basketball IQ, with a special ability to find the best opportunities on the floor to create scoring for others.
Although Parker has a size advantage (185 pounds to Rondo's 171, and 6-2 to Rondo's 6-1), making him at least slightly harder to defend, Rondo plays scrappy basketball like no one else, constantly diving and swiping for balls. It's good enough for 2.23 steals per game, compared to Parker's 1.42.
Rondo's added quickness make him difficult to defend on every trip to the hoop.
This will be an interesting match up, as two premier point guards go toe—to—toe. Watch for two unique skill sets that each make a difference for their respective teams.
The Boston Celtics will look to use their league-leading defense as their biggest weapon against the Spurs, giving up only 90.8 points per game.
Boston's front-court presence is strongest on defense, as the Celtics' big mean clog up the low post and close off lanes, preventing not only inside scoring, but preventing inside-out opportunities for opponents.
The Spurs will need to find ways around the O'Neals and charge-taker-in-chief Glen Davis, as well as recent standouts Luke Harangody and Semih Erden, who, although lacking in areas (Harangody's undersized, and Erden's lanky and awkward at times), provide extra bench support and can pull down rebounds and stand in the post.
The Spurs have the tenth best defense in the league, allowing 96.7 points per game. San Antonio boasts its own post defense in the form of Duncan and McDyess, which can hold its own against opponents.
As of this writing, the Spurs have just been taken to task by the New York Knicks, losing 128-115. If the Celtics will want to give the Spurs another loss, they will absolutely need to shoot well from the outside and use their strong defense to limit scoring from Parker and Ginobili. If Boston accomplishes these tasks, they may very well limit the Spurs ability to use their high-power offense.
The Celtics are playing very well at home this year, so far going 14-2 at TD Garden. I realize this isn't college, but Boston has a huge home-court advantage, and on a good day, this can cause big problems for visitors.
I also realize that the Spurs are an extremely good team that can probably handle this, but in a close game, it can make all the difference. Look for the Celtics to try to push the ball late if it's close, and hope that a few late buckets can energize the crowd.
As we all know, the Celtics are playing with a chip on their shoulder. They're hurting right now, and they'll want to come out strong and prove that even without one of their stars, they can hang with the best and play good ball.
They want another shot at a Championship, and as much as they are trying to get through the regular season, they'll want to prove they can still beat good teams down the stretch, even when they're playing shorthanded.
This should definitely be a close game, with Boston's stout defense facing off against San Antonio's powerful offense. However, if the Celtics can't find a rhythm early, it may be a very a long game in Boston.
Go Green 18!