The Boston Celtics are currently riding a two game win streak with wins over western conference opponents in the Timberwolves and Mavericks, but tonight Boston will face a scrappy Brooklyn Nets team who are sitting in the seventh spot in the east. The Nets have won eight of their last 10 games and find themselves in the playoff picture for the first time since the 2014-15 season. They also have six players averaging double digit scoring.
These are three major points Boston has to do if they want to come away with a win.
Get Jarrett Allen in Foul Trouble
Since Aron Baynes went down with a broken hand last month the Celtics have had a hard time defending the paint. The team is averaging 34.4 defensive rebounds a game, but their undersized big men in Al Horford, Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele have been getting pounded down low. We saw that in their loss against the Houston Rockets as Clint Capela finished the game with 19 rebounds. The Timberwolves didn’t go down easy either, Karl-Anthony Towns gave Boston trouble in the paint putting up 28 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen is in the conversation for defensive player of the year averaging 1.4 blocks per game (BPG). Allen has been a force in the paint for the Nets all season, he’s had some impressive blocks against MVP caliber players in LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo. With Baynes and Robert Williams out, Boston’s undersized big men are going to have to control Allen in the paint, which is easier said than done considering Allen is averaging 8.3 rebounds a game (RPG). Boston’s guards will have to get Allen into foul trouble so they can get easy buckets against backup center Ed Davis in switches and in the pick-n-roll.
Slow Down PG Duo of Dinwiddie and Russell
With Caris LeVert going down with a nasty ankle injury in November, in what seemed to be a similar injury that Gordon Hayward suffered last season, D’Angelo Russell has took it upon himself to carry the team offensively. He’s had helped from back-up point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who’s also in the conversation for sixth man of the year, averaging 17.2 points per game (PPG) off the bench. Russell himself is putting up 18.4 PPG and dishing out 6.4 assists per game (APG).
Marcus Smart and Kyrie Irving, who is returning from an eye injury after missing two games, are going to have to play tight defense against Russell and Dinwiddie who over the season have shown to be a match-up problem on the offensive end. Dinwiddie and Russell have respectively put up over 30 points on multiple occasions. The 6’6 Dinwiddie is going to be a match-up problem against the smaller Boston point guards in Smart, Irving and Terry Rozier.
Out Hustle Brooklyn
If we were talking about last season’s Boston Celtics we wouldn’t be having this discussion in terms of hustle plays, but that’s not the case for this season team. The Celtics ability to overcome deficits last season was the team’s identity, they had an 8-5 winning record after trailing by at least 13 points and 5-4 in games when they were down by at least 17 points. But this season Boston’s only has had a few gritty comeback victories against the Philadelphia 76ers on Christmas day, Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City at the start of the season.
Brooklyn is obviously the underdog going into Monday’s match-up, but under head coach Kenny Atkinson they’re grinding out victories against big time playoff opponents. They picked up wins over the Sixers, Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Lakers and Charlotte Hornets. Brooklyn are top ten in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage at 29.7 percent, which can play can be a big key if they want to steal a win in Boston.