Coming off an impressive Christmas Day victory over Brooklyn, the Celtics face arguably their biggest challenge of the season.
The Clippers have won fourteen straight games, and at 22-6, have the best record in the NBA.
The first key for Boston is limiting LA’s fastbreak opportunities. The Celtics had just eleven turnovers against the Nets and taking care of the basketball will be crucial tonight.
Force Los Angeles to prove themselves in the half court game, an area they have gone largely untested in. This is a team that is comprised of streaky perimeter shooters, and it would not be surprising to see them go cold.
Boston also needs to be smart in shot selection, not allowing Los Angeles to run the floor, courtesy of a bad or poor timed attempt. Instead, the Celtics would be wise to work the entire shot clock, forcing the Clippers, who despite playing well at the defensive end this year do not have a history of doing so. At the very least, this will help to ware them down.
The second key for tonight is energy. This is the first West Coast game of the road trip, and will be played in a hostile environment, against the best team that they are going to face before returning home.
Boston must make a concentrated effort to get back on defense and to box out. Getting a body on the likes of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, will help to prevent being on the wrong end of highlight dunks that will make the crowd come alive.
Tonight’s third key is bench scoring. Los Angeles is third allowed in points per game, and with the likes of Matt Barnes and Caron Butler, they are capable of containing Paul Pierce.
How the Celtics bench performs will go a long way towards determining the outcome of tonight’s game. In Tuesday’s win, Jared Sullinger posted a career high, 16 points, while Jeff Green added 15.
Green showed how effective he can be with his back to the basket, utilizing his athleticism and explosiveness down low. If this proves to be a skill that Green can consistently go to then Boston’s outlook becomes a whole lot brighter, not just tonight, but for the entire season.
Sullinger also appears to be figuring things out and getting more and more comfortable, especially at the offensive end of the floor. He also gives Doc Rivers a player who can attack the glass and provide second chance opportunities. Consistent performances from the youngest member of the team will help the bench live up to the hype that surrounded them coming into the year.
The final key for tonight is the point guard battle. Rajon Rondo should use his size advantage to shoot over Chris Paul as well as post him up. This will also allow Rondo to see the floor better, an area he certainly doesn’t need any help in. On the defensive end, Rondo must be able to keep Paul in front of him and to run with the all-star point guard when he looks to push the basketball.
If the Celtics can do this, they will be in good shape to win tonight’s game and pass yet another major test. Starting this road trip 2-0 is exactly what the Doc (Rivers) ordered.