In a re-shaped Eastern conference, the Boston Celtics are looking increasingly like the team to beat. In today’s battle of the top seeds, the Golden State Warriors are looking to balance the scoreboard after losing a tight game to these Celtics back in November. In the intervening months, the sentiment that these are the two teams that could meet in the Finals has strengthened, as the Cleveland Cavaliers squabble amongst themselves and collapse. Out West, the Warriors have a grasp on the #1 seed, but it is somewhat tenuous, and we still have a lot of basketball left to play this season.
WHO: Warriors vs. Celtics
WHEN: Saturday, January 27, 5:30 p.m.(!)
WHERE: Oracle Arena
RADIO: 95.7 The Game
Blog Buddy: Celtics Blog (no really, that’s their official name)
BOS: Marcus Smart (hand laceration) is out - more on this below. Also, Gordon Hayward (ankle) remains inactive.
GSW: Patrick McCaw (back), Jordan Bell (ankle) are out.
The Celtics are good and have already proven they can hang with Golden State
This will be the second and final regular season matchup between the two teams this season, after they dropped us 92-88 early in the season. If you’ll recall, the Warriors were up by as much as 17 points before Boston turned the tables on us and laid out a very Warriors-esque 3rd quarter beatdown. In one of the more exciting games of the season, the teams battled in a 4th quarter that featured eight lead changes and five ties before Kyrie Irving got sent to the line on a phantom foul call and put the Warriors away for good.
News broke on Friday that Marcus Smart, or as he’s known in Boston “Mahkus Smaht” will be out for this game - and every game for the next two weeks - after allegedly “swiping” at a framed picture on a wall. While we don’t know all the details surrounding this event, it is clearly going to benefit the Warriors. Smart is the sort of hard-nosed, physical defender that can cause Steph Curry problems. An issue somewhat proven in the last meeting between these two teams, when Curry struggled to his worst game of the season - posting just nine points on 21% shooting.
Boston has the best defense in the NBA right now, so this is by no means an easy path to victory. Look for coach Brad Stevens to plug in Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin, but Smart is a significant loss. After losing four of their last five games, this is probably not the shakeup that they were hoping for though.
Also worth watching, rookie sensation Jason Tatum, who started the year off incredibly hot, but has begun sinking back into a more reasonable shooting profile after going bananas early in the season. Regardless of the long-term trends, there’s a strong correlation between Tatum’s play and the Celtics chance of success. Marcus Thompson:
Tatum has played all 49 games for the Celtics this season. In their 35 wins, he is averaging 15 points on nearly 51 percent shooting, making 48 percent of his 3s. But in their 14 losses, those shooting metrics plummet to 43 percent overall and 39 percent from 3.
The Warriors are starting to hit their stride, offensively at least
Golden State is not the type of team to forget about which teams they have lost to, so it’s a safe bet to expect the Warriors to come out ready and engaged with their full intent.
Once again, from The Athletic, this time as per Anthony Slater - the Warriors most prominent offensive star players are starting to kick some serious butt:
Curry shot 41.1 percent last season, a career low. It was even worse into early December of this season, when, on the night he badly sprained his ankle, Curry was sitting at 38.1 percent. But during his recovery, he vowed to spike that metric. Since returning from the injury, he’s followed through, making 63 of his 127 in 11 games, bumping his season percentage all the way up from 38.1 to 42.3.
That’s right around the range Durant is currently sitting: 41.9 percent after his huge Thursday night. That’s been spiked by a scorching January, when Durant has made 28 of his 55 long-range shots in nine games, a better than 50 percent clip.
In our last meeting, the Warriors strangled the Celtics offense - which, to be fair, is pretty bad on the best days. The Celtics rank 18th in offense, 17th in TS% and 20th in pace. If the Warriors can hold their own against Boston defensively, and have something close to a normal shooting night, it should be a decisive victory for the home team.
On defense, the Warriors have not been quite the elite force as in previous years. But I think the one matchup to watch is going to be Al Horford. Horford is a smart veteran player that’s all too easy to underestimate, but he’s a bit of a matchup problem for the Warriors. Pachulia will likely get the start, and Draymond Green can fill in spot minutes, but there is only so much time at the center position he can take - especially when it looks like he’s hiding a baseball in his elbow.
Without Jordan Bell available, Kerr will likely turn to some combination of Kevon Looney and David West. Keeping Horford contained (along with Irving) should be one of the team’s highest defensive priorities.