The Suns are coming off a big 15 win over the Lakers while the Celtics are coming off a close loss to the Warriors. The Suns, however, lost to those same Warriors on Christmas Day 132-127.
The Suns are a tough team to face in their building. They have a 12-2 home record and have won 20 of their last 23 home games. The Celtics are 13-3 on the road with 2 of those losses coming in their last two games on this road trip. The Suns beat the Celtics in Boston earlier this season and so the Celtics will be looking to even the series in this game.
The Suns are a high scoring team and are averaging 109.5 points per game, good for first in the league. They are averaging an even better 115.2 points per game at home. However, they don't play a lot of defense, allowing over 106 points per game. They prefer to outscore their opponents rather than trying to stop them from scoring. The Celtics will not be able to beat the Suns in a shoot out. They need to find their defense and find a way to stop the Suns running game if they hope to win this game.
Probable Starting Lineup
PG: Rajon Rondo PPG 13.2 RPG 4.1 APG 9.7 SG: Ray Allen PPG 16.2 RPG 3.3 3P% .354
C: Kendrick Perkins PPG 11.9 RPG 8.0 BPG 2.0
SF: Tony Allen PPG 7.9 RPG 3.8 APG 1.4 PF: Kevin Garnett PPG 15.0 RPG 7.6 BPG 0.9
Probable Starting Lineup
PG: Steve Nash PPG 18.6 APG 11.3 SPG 0.4 SG: Jason Richardson PPG 15.5 APG 2.0 3P% .374
C: Channing Frye PPG 12.4 RPG 5.9 BPG 0.9
SF: Grant Hill PPG 11.7 RPG 5.6 APG 2.3 PF: Amare Stoudamire PPG 20.3 RPG 8.5 BPG 0.8
Rajon Rondo vs Steve Nash
Rondo gets a chance to show what he can do against one of the premier PG's in the league and a 2 time MVP. He should have a speed advantage over Nash, but he will have to work on the defensive end as Nash can burn you from anywhere on the floor if you give him a step. Rondo is coming off of an excellent game vs the Warriors, but tweaked a hamstring so that may become a factor in this game.
Kevin Garnett vs Amare Stoudamire
This is a battle of two of the league's top power forwards. KG looked a step slow on defense in the Warriors game, which could be from fatigue or he could still be battling back pain from his fall a couple of games back. The Celtics need KG on defense especially in this game as Amare is averaging over 20 points per game and is one of the Suns' key weapons.
Celtics Bench vs Suns Bench
The Suns have a very good starting five and the two starting units match up fairly well. But with all the injuries on the Celtics, the Suns' bench has an advantage. Jared Dudley is becoming one of the top subs in the league and leads the league in 3 point percentage. Leandro Barbosa is faster than anyone on the Celtics second unit and will give anyone who guards him fits. They also have a very good center in Robin Lopez and an up and coming PG in Goran Dragic. The Celtics' bench must come to work in this one or by the time the starters return, the game will be out of reach.
Keys to the Game Defense - This is the key to every win this season and to a championship as well. The Celtics played defense in spurts against the Clippers and the Warriors, and they lost both games. If they try to play defense in spurts in this game they will probably lose this one as well. The Celtics need to especially guard the perimeter as the Suns can be dangerous from out there. Jared Dudley leads the league in 3 point percentage. The Suns have made 10 or more 3 pointers in 19 of their games this season.
Ball Movement - The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man in order to stretch the Suns weak defenses. They also need to stop taking quick 3's and try to work the ball inside. If they get the ball into the post they will be able to score, draw the foul or kick out for an open jumper. Shooting 3 pointers every time down just isn't working for this team and they need to abandon that strategy and get the ball into the paint.
Crash the Boards - The Celtics must make an effort to grab rebounds, especially on the offensive end, in this game. By grabbing offensive rebounds it will prevent the Suns from getting out on the break and it will also give the Celtics second chance points. Rebounding is mostly desire and effort and the team that wants it most will win the rebounding battle.
Play 48 Minutes - In their last two games, the Celtics have built a lead only to ease up and allow their opponents back into the game. The Celtics must play 48 minutes. They can't let up if they get a lead and they can't come out flat and play catch up the rest of the game. They have to keep their focus and intensity for the entire game.
X-Factor Focus and Fatigue
The Celtics looked like a tired team against the Warriors. They have a day off to get some rest before this game, but Doc has been playing his starters too many minutes and it is showing in their jumpers falling short. Hopefully the Celtics focus will be strong enough to overcome their fatigue.