Celtics

Celtics

BOSTON –- Finally, the Boston Celtics will get a chance to play in front of their own fans tonight when they host the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden.

Their first four games have all been on the road, at division rivals Brooklyn and New York, as well as more exotic locales in Milan, Italy and Madrid, Spain.

While much of the focus has been on developing continuity with the ever-changing lineups, as well as the development of the team’s younger players, the desire to come out on top isn’t any less now than it is during the regular season.

“Oh, we all definitely want to win,” Celtics Amir Johnson recently told CSNNE.com. “That’s why you play the game; to win. There’s stuff we want to work on and get better at, for sure. But we’re out here trying to win.”

With that, here’s the Starting Five of keys to tonight’s game:

RUN, MARCUS (AND TERRY), RUN

A bout with strep throat and a left knee injury, respectively, kept Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, sidelined for the Celtics’ last two preseason games.

While a player’s conditioning won’t completely go away with a couple days off, these two have been relatively inactive for about a week, which can have a noticeable affect on their conditioning.

That’s why Celtics head coach Brad Stevens plans to give both plenty of court time in the final preseason games, just to get them back on track conditioning-wise.

 

It is a bigger concern with Smart, who will likely be the team’s starting point guard. His conditioning is absolutely critical to being able to defend at a high level.

As for Rozier, his minutes are likely to be limited in the regular season. So while conditioning for him is important, it is a much bigger priority with Smart.

GET TO THE POINT

We have seen both Smart and Isaiah Thomas at the point guard position, with each enjoying a certain level of success with the first unit.

As much as Thomas longs to be a starter, the most likely scenario will have him back in his role as a key sub off the bench with Smart being the starter.

The issue isn’t so much what Thomas doesn’t accomplish with the first unit, but more about how big an impact player he is off the bench.

And if the Celtics decide to keep Amir Johnson in a reserve role as well, Thomas becomes an even tougher cover because of Johnson’s ability to roll to the rim, which forces defenses to react and creates more potential scoring opportunities for Thomas.

INTERIOR DEFENSE

When these two teams met last week, Brooklyn big man Brook Lopez was a non-factor, scoring 12 points in 27 minutes with five rebounds and three assists.

Boston’s ability to limit his impact speaks to the team’s progress towards better protecting the paint.

Last season, the Celtics gave up 44.6 points in the paint, which was the fifth-highest average in the NBA.

In Boston’s four preseason games, they have allowed 38.0 points in the paint per game while averaging an impressive 49.5 points in the paint.

The first matchup with Brooklyn saw the Celtics allow 44 points in the paint while scoring 50, something Boston would love to repeat tonight.

NEW, OLD COMBINATIONS

Tonight won’t be the first time Marcus Smart and Evan Turner have played together. But don’t be surprised if things don’t go quite as smoothly as they have in the past.

Smart is being looked upon to be more of a facilitator on the floor, a role that Turner assumed more often than not when the two shared floor space. How they gel will be important in determining not only which combinations to play but could also factor in potential personnel moves down the road.

WHO’S IN, OUT

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens says he plans to play four bigs most nights during the season. But with an emphasis on looking at various combinations, all of Boston’s bigs have seen action on most nights.

And while there still are three more preseason games to be played, it appears Stevens has a good feel for who will be among those first four bigs.

David Lee, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller appear to be the four players that will all vie for minutes, either as starters or key reserves.

 

That leaves Jonas Jerebko (he has been the team’s fifth big man in the preseason) and Jared Sullinger on the outside, looking in.

Sullinger has been the biggest surprise among the bigs, due to the fact that he started 49 games last season. His conditioning has been an issue in the past, but we haven’t seen him play enough consecutive stretches where his conditioning – or lack of conditioning perhaps – has been a noticeable issue.

In four preseason games, Sullinger has played no more than 19 minutes and is averaging 14.3 minutes per game. He’s shooting just 34.3 percent from the field while averaging 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Sullinger is definitely one of the players to keep an eye on as he tries to work his way up the depth chart.