Celtics

Four things you need to know about tonight's Celtics-Suns matchup

Four things you need to know about tonight's Celtics-Suns matchup

Coming off their first loss since the season opener nearly a month ago, all eyes will be on the Boston Celtics as they try to get back to their winning ways tonight in Phoenix. 

A major headline going into the game is the reunion that Celtics players from last season's squad will have with their former teammate and now current Phoenix center, Aron Baynes. 

But there’s a lot more to this game than just that.

With that said, here are four things you need to know about tonight’s matchup. 

1. DEVIN BOOKER

We all remember how he absolutely torched the Celtics a couple years ago for a career-high 70 points. But that’s just one of several games in which Booker has dominated the Celtics like no one has. 

In his last four games against Boston, Booker has averaged an eye-popping 42.8 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field (61-for-122), 87.5 percent (35-for-40) from the free throw line and 35 percent (14-for-40) from 3-point range. 

Forget about limiting him from scoring. 

How about keeping him under 50 points?

2. NO PASSING FANCY

The Suns have done a good job all season of keeping teams on the move defensively with all their ball movement. Through the first 11 games, the Suns are averaging a league-best 28.8 assists per game. 

Phoenix’s ability to effectively probe defenses has allowed them to work the shot clock and get good, quality looks with little time left to shoot. 

This season, NBA.com/stats show that the Suns are shooting 33.3 percent from 3-point range when there’s four seconds or less on the shot clock which is the fourth-best mark in the league this season. The Celtics are at the opposite end of that category, connecting on just 20 percent of their shots with four seconds or less on the shot clock, which ranks 21st in the NBA. Boston has been at its best shooting with 15-18 seconds on the shot clock, connecting on a league-best 52.4 percent of its shots within that time frame. 

That ball movement has a way of wearing teams down over the course of a game, which makes tonight’s matchup for the Celtics even more daunting when you factor in it coming on the second night of a back-to-back. 

3. RICKY RUBIO

In what’s turning out to be one of the sneaky-good offseason signings, Ricky Rubio seems to have finally found a basketball home and success with it. The veteran guard, who signed a three-year, $51 million deal after leaving Utah, has had a solid career in Minnesota as well as the last two years with the Jazz, but he never displayed the kind of consistency we have seen thus far with the Suns both in terms of his own individual play and that play fitting in with the team’s success. 

The 29-year-old Rubio is averaging a career-high 13.6 points per game as well as 6.3 rebounds (also a career high) and 8.7 assists while shooting a career-best 37.5 percent from 3-point range. 

Rubio’s ability to be that savvy, veteran playmaker has taken a good chunk of the running of the offense off the shoulders of Devin Booker, who can instead focus on what he needs to do in order to help the Suns win — which is score the ball and be a solid defender. 

And with Rubio’s 6-foot-3 frame with defensive skills that seem to keep getting better with time, the Suns also reap the benefits of having a solid defender in the backcourt with Booker, too. 

4. OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE KEYS

Boston’s defense has shown some slippage lately, something they will have to clean up against a Phoenix team with lots of high-impact, difference-makers on offense. And when you look at these two teams, it’s clear that three specific categories will go far in determining who wins tonight’s game.

Points off turnovers: Phoenix averages a league-best 22.2 points off of turnovers this season. They’ll look to continue along those lines against a Celtics defense that allows a league-low 13.1 points off of turnovers this season.

Fast break points: Phoenix is one of the best fast-break teams in the NBA, evident by them averaging 16.3 fast-break points which ranks fourth in the league. Meanwhile, Boston allows opponents to score 12.3 fast-break points per game, which ranks eighth in the NBA.

Points in the paint: And when it comes to points in the paint, the Suns once again score high marks with a 49.6 points in the paint per game average, which ranks 10th in the league. And once again, Boston’s defense may be the answer to limiting those points in the paint. Teams are averaging 42.8 points in the paint against Boston, which is the third-fewest mark of any team in the league now. 

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Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Bryce Brown his franchise 3's record in Red Claws loss

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Bryce Brown his franchise 3's record in Red Claws loss

The Maine Red Claws were in action at home at the Portland Expo Center on Saturday night hosting the Delaware Blue Coats, taking a 128-123 loss to fall to 7-4 and fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

Tacko Fall wasn’t in action, but Bryce Brown was simply furious, leading all scorers with 43 points 15 of 17 from the floor overall and a franchise single-game record 11 of 11 three-pointers. Tremont Waters was terrific, too, with 18 points and 11 assists.

HIGHLIGHTS

BRYCE BROWN

Brown, an undrafted free agent who helped lead Auburn to its first Final Four appearance last spring, was simply unconscious for the Claws. He shot a perfect 11 of 11 from three-point range to give him an absurd effective field goal percentage of 1.2 for the game.

TREMONT WATERS

Waters, the Connecticut native, was crafty in his distribution, with just four turnovers to go with his 11 assists.

Yante Maten (18 points), Vincent Poirier (18) and Justin Bibbs (10) also scored in double-figures for the Red Claws.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Red Claws return to action Friday in Des Moines, Iowa to face the Iowa Wolves, with tipoff at 8 p.m. ET.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 6:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Happy birthday, Larry Bird!

Happy birthday, Larry Bird!

Anytime is a good time to watch highlights of the greatness that was Larry Bird playing for the Celtics.

But on Larry Legend's 63rd birthday? It's time to break out the best of No. 33...

The fight with Dr. J in 1984:

The 60-point game against the Hawks in '85:

The steal against Isiah Thomas and the Pistons in '87:

The "you are watching was greatness is all about" duel with Dominique Wilkins in '88:

CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST CELTICS TALK PODCAST (LISTEN BELOW): 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.