Breaking down C's opponents on west coast trip
Breaking down C's opponents on west coast trip
By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON – The final West coast jaunt for the Boston Celtics kicks off Saturday night in Phoenix which serves as one of the few games on the trip that Boston will be favored to win.
But as we’ve seen all season, who the opponent is has little bearing on the game’s outcome.
Win or lose, it always comes back to how the Celtics play that determines success or struggles.
But heading into each matchup, there are different narratives that paint unique pictures as to what it will take for Boston to survive what has been a grueling schedule to close out the regular season.
Here we take a look at each of the five games out West and examine keys to success as well as matchups to watch.
Record: 20-51, 14th in the Western Conference
What happened?: When these two met on Jan. 15, the Celtics had no trouble defeating the Suns 117-103 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might indicate.
Isaiah Thomas had 19 points and Avery Bradley chipped in 17, but it was Kelly Olynyk who led the way for Boston with a team-high 21 points off the bench. Mirza Teletovic led Phoenix with a game-high 22 points.
What to look for: The Suns are in evaluation mode right now, from interim head coach Earl Watson to the entire roster. They are absolutely ripe to get blown out by the Celtics who come in having won three straight. Phoenix has played slightly better of late, but this remains the most winnable game on the team’s upcoming trip.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Record: 43-27, 4th in the Western Conference.
What happened last time? In the last game prior to the all-star break on Feb. 10, the Celtics were able to pull away in overtime for a 139-134 win which was Boston’s fifth win in six games. Evan Turner had 14 points, seven of which came in the overtime session. Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 36 points while Clippers all-star Chris Paul had 35 points.
What to expect: There’s far more at stake in this game for Boston than there is for the Clippers. They are pretty much locked into the No. 4 seed in the East, so ex-Celtics coach Doc Rivers may go to “strategically resting” key players in the coming weeks. It wouldn’t be all that shocking if Chris Paul or DeAndre Jordan or another starter were to have the night off which would potentially be a win-win for both teams.
Record: 37-35, Sixth in the Western Conference
What happened last time?: Boston blew open a relatively close game with a 30-12 destruction of the Blazers in the third quarter which set this blowout in motion which ended with a 116-93 Celtics win. In the third, Jared Sullinger scored nine of his 15 points. He also grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. The Blazers’ backcourt led by Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum had 20 and 17 points, respectively.
What to expect: This will be very much a swing game of sorts for the Celtics. Portland isn’t in the same class as Golden State or the Los Angeles Clippers, but are so much better than Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers. Don’t be surprised if Jae Crowder makes his return to the floor tonight after suffering a high ankle sprain earlier this month.
Record: 64-7, 1st in the Western Conference
What happened last time? The Milwaukee Bucks were the first team to beat Golden State this season on Dec. 12, but the Celtics certainly did their part to help as they battled the Warriors the night before in a game that ended in a 124-119 double overtime loss for the Celtics. Stephen Curry led all scorers with 38 points. Boston had six double figure scorers led by Kelly Olynyk’s team-high 28 points.
What to expect: The only thing tougher than playing the Warriors, is playing the Warriors at Oracle Arena where they have been a flawless 33-0 this season. The next team to beat them on their home floor will be the first team to beat them there this season. Look for Isaiah Thomas to try and assert himself offensively in the game’s opening quarter. Also, Kelly Olynyk will be a key off the bench shooting the ball for Boston.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
What happened last time? In what may have been the team’s most disappointing performance of the season, Boston lost 112-104 to the Lakers on Dec. 30. In what will be the last game ever for Kobe Bryant, he finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Isaiah Thomas had 24 points and seven assists and Evan Turner had 20.
What to expect: This will be the final game of the West coast trip, so there’s no way of knowing what role fatigue will play in the game. Regardless, this is a game that the Celtics have to approach as an absolute “must win” game. The Eastern Conference is ridiculously close in the standings so every game has tremendous value. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley are just some of the players who needs to step up and contribute in a game that on paper, the Celtics should win with little trouble.