Tonight the Boston Celtics will be at the Palace to play against the Pistons at 7:30pm EST. Boston is on the second night of a back to back after losing to Cleveland in Boston last night. The Pistons had one day off and did not travel. (But obviously did play a hard fought overtime game.)
The Them: The Boston Celtics are a rather oddball, but still pretty good team. They would absolutely fall in the "Good eastern conference team that is not Cleveland" second tier of teams. When people say that they do not have one "star" that is being a bit unfair to Isaiah Thomas, who is an absolutely dynamite offensive player who scores in a huge variety of ways and facilitates as well. And the offense falls off a pretty veritable cliff when he sits. (and the same is said for Avery Bradley) HOWEVA, even if it is a little unfair to Thomas, it is not unfair to everything else about this team. They are a collection of solid rotation players with a super smart coach in Brad Stevens. Their offense is very average at 100.7, but their defense is a very good 97.0. (and personally I think that defense is the better judge of how good coaches are.) Beyond Thomas is, as has been said many times, an army of solid players. In the back court with Thomas is Avery Bradley who is a excellent perimeter defender and while he is not going to create a lot of offense, he is an excellent complimentary piece who can shoot from the outside and hurt already fractured defenses off the dribble. (Marcus Smart is hurt so he will not be in this game.) Jae Crowder is pretty similar to Bradley in that, he also will not do a whole lot of creating on his own, but he can defend most anybody, hit open jumpers, and has enough bounce to hurt teams inside when he can get there. Their big man rotation is one of the better in the NBA in terms of depth, Sullinger can rebound and even though he is in a bit of a slump, he can shoot the ball a bit. Kelly Olynyk is a very solid shooter who is mobile enough to be a decent defender. Amir Johnson is a highly uner rated player who can shoot a bit and defend inside and out. And David Lee can still score and rebound a bit, and is truly a very good passer. And Evan "The logo" Turner has really been allowed to embrace his goofy short range offensive game to be a very solid guy off the bench. Jonas Jerebko plays a wee bit too but Pistons fans should know him. All in all, they have a rotation of very solid players who (mostly) play both ways. While I would certainly say that a lot of the early season expectations were high, especially comparing them to the '04 Pistons, HOWEVA, the reality is that they do come off as '04 Pistons lite. They have a lot guys who are very solid defenders, a very good coach, and find a way to make the offense work. (even if their motion offense obviously looks a whole lot different from the Pistons offense did.) They make the offense work with constant passing and movement, with the playmaking of Isaiah Thomas (and occasionally Evan Turner) thrown in as the catalyst. This team is very well coached, and has smart players. The comparisons to the '04 Pistons are off, but this is a very good team. (and to be clear, that is not some shot at the Celtics, remember that that Pistons team was a Rasheed Wallace screw up from winning back to back Titles and went to 6 straight conference finals in all. Although they won't get their due because they did not get the second title, that team was on the all time great teams.)
Matchups to watch:
Andre vs. Everyone: You know the drill by now, but it is even more true for the Celtics than most teams. They legit have 5 dudes who they can throw at Drummond (Tyler Zeller does not play much anymore but he can) who are all solid players, but none of them are anywhere near as good as Drummond. And outside of Sullinger, none of them are awesome rebounders and Sullinger is only 6'9 he probably is not the answer to stop Andre. It will be an interesting battle, Stevens will get creative about trying to keep Andre off the boards but the reality is that the Celtics might just not have anyone who can compete with Andre. As such, Andre will need good effort. Because even if they cannot compete physically, they will box out diligently and do all the other right things. So if he is lazy he could well be controlled. Or it may well be that I am underselling the Celtics bigs, either way it will be interesting.
KCP vs. Thomas: I don't know if KCP will guard Thomas, but on the other end Thomas will almost certainly get KCP so Bradley can go on Jackson. KCP has shown improvements in scoring inside, but the reality is that all that means is that he can now in fact score inside. If KCP can find ways to hurt the Celtics for putting Thomas on him then the Pistons will be in business on offense because that is the most obvious defensive hole the Celtics have. Even if it is as simple as shooting over Thomas because of the height advantage, KCP needs to find a way to hurt the Celtics. (and if Thomas ends up on someone else, the same will go for them, whoever ends up with Thomas on them will have to find ways to take advantage of that.)
Bench vs. Oh crap: The Celtics have one of the better benches in the NBA, the Pistons do not. While the Pistons starters do figure to be better than their Celtic counter parts, it might not matter. On paper/most nights I would assume the Celtics bench would slaughter the Pistons bench and carry them to a victory. As such, essentially the Pistons will have to hope for some luck with the bench mob, whether that is in the form of Greater Morris getting hot, Steve Blake continuing his absurd 3 point shooting of late, Stanley Johnson having a good game etc. Somehow the Pistons bench has got too pull something out if its ass or this could be the first Indiana game all over again very quickly.
Defense vs. Effort: The Pistons survive on defense by giving awesome effort and being disciplined. But they do not have enough good individual defenders to survive without both of those, and the Celtics motion offense is primed to take advantage of any lapses the Pistons have. They will have to be on their toes all night to keep from giving up easy looks. All that said, on the other side, when the Pistons are locked in they are the sort of smothering defense that makes it almost impossible to make even the most simple passes. As such, this could well end up swinging heavily in either direction.
So in conclusion
Cackle with knowing glee if:
Andre is way to big and strong for anyone on the Celtics frontcourt.
KCP manages to score efficiently on Thomas.
Pistons defense is locked in and completely smothers the Celtics offense.
Reggie Jackson is keeps looking like he is getting healthier.
Run for the hills if:
The Celtics passing is tearing up lazy Pistons defense.
Isaiah Thomas is getting into the lane at will.
KCP is bricking all sorts of shots.
The bench gives up 20 points in 2 minutes.
Larry Bird does in fact walk through that door.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
The Pistons fall behind a bit early thanks to lazy defense/bench horribleness.
Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond both have big games.
KCP does not manage to do much against Thomas outside of a couple 3s.
The Pistons are down by a decent margin as time is winding down, but then kick the defense into gear and smother the Celtics offense and make a comeback to win the game on the strength of a great game by the starting lineup.
The Celtics are a pretty fun team to watch, and this will be a cool game to watch. Especially how the Pistons fare against a team that is so well coached, because there have been several games that are tipped the Pistons way because of clearly superior coaching. And while SVG could well be a better coach than Stevens, they are both excellent. So there will be no such advantage here.
What do you think? Think I'm stupid? Think the bench will find some magical unicorn poop? Let me know! We all get smarter!
P.S. Celtics, you butchered your mascot potential and it makes me angry. I root against you because of how stupid your mascot is and how cool it should/could have been. It makes me angry. Nothing personal. But you make me angry.