BOSTON -- When the Boston Celtics face the Golden State Warriors, it usually serves as one of those measuring stick-like games.
It is again this season, but not for the usual reasons.
Instead of the Celtics (9-1) looking forward to seeing how they stack up against one of the league’s best, it is the woeful playing Warriors (2-9) trying to get a feel for how they can match up with the best team record-wise in the NBA.
Tonight’s matchup is very much a role reversal in every sense of the word, fueled in large part by injuries to key Golden State players (Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry) and a Boston squad that’s playing significantly better than anyone anticipated.
While it may not have the same luster to it that we’ve seen in past years, there’s still plenty of reasons - we’ll give you 10 right now - why this game is a big deal for both teams.
1. STAY TRENDY
Boston comes in favored to win, but even in Golden State’s best seasons, a victory over Boston was far from a given. In fact, the road team has come away with the win in seven of their last nine matchups.
2. JAYLEN BROWN
The fourth-year wing is in a great groove now, impacting the game at both ends of the floor which is what both he and the Celtics envisioned for him to be doing more of this season. He is averaging a career-high 20.1 points on the season and has scored at least 20 points in each of Boston’s last three games - a first for him in his career. Continuing to impact the game both as a defender and top-shelf scorer will be imperative to his continued growth and the Celtics’ chances at extending its winning streak tonight.
3. CENTER OF ATTENTION
This will be the first time all season that the Celtics will enter a game with their top three centers - Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams III - all probable as far as availability. Each has contributed in some fashion to the team’s strong play this season. Having them all available provides Brad Stevens with the kind of lineup problem he has been longing to have all season.
4. TATUM A BIG PLUS FOR THE CELTICS
Good things tend to happen when Jayson Tatum is on the floor for Boston this season. In fact, he leads the NBA in plus-minus this season with +128. The others on his heels include LeBron James (+96) of the Los Angeles Lakers; Devin Booker (+92) of the Phoenix Suns; Pascal Siakam (+92) of the Toronto Raptors and Kelly Oubre (+89) of the Suns.
One of the keys to Boston doing such a good job at getting lots of shots off is that they don’t make a ton of miscues and mistakes on offense, which has resulted in them having one of the lowest turnover rates in the NBA. This season, Boston is averaging a league-low 11.5 turnovers per game.
6. SMART THREES
No, this is no play off of Marcus Smart’s name, although he is shooting the 3-point shot better than ever this season. Here’s the thing, Boston has a lot of players with the ability to get red-hot from 3-point range. But unlike last season when it seemed they were just jacking up 3’s all the time, there seems to be more thought taken into taking good ones rather than just the first time there’s enough space to launch one. And the result has been Boston connecting on 37.0 percent of its 3-pointers which ranks eighth in the NBA.
7. IN DRIVER’S SEAT
The most noticeable difference with the Celtics now compared to past seasons has been the balance that exists in them driving the ball to the paint. Rather than relying on one or two players, this Celtics team has four or five players who consistently attack the rim. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a ton of shots in the paint. But the threat that they present with their dribble-drive game creates better shot opportunities for their perimeter players as well as those who are getting to the rim.
8. PICK AND ROLL, ROLLIN’ OVER TEAMS
Kemba Walker and the rest of Boston’s playmakers are doing a great job this season setting up defenses with the pick-and-roll, often keeping the ball with the result being good looks at the rim for themselves. This season, the Celtics are averaging a league-best 1.10 points per play (PPP) on Pick-and-Rolls with the Ball handler keeping it. And that has resulted in them averaging 28 points in such plays per game which ranks second in the NBA and tops in the Eastern Conference.
9. RUN, CELTICS, RUN
Boston’s rebounding, for the most part, has been solid this season. It has allowed them to get out in transition where they have been extremely effective. They come into tonight’s game averaging 1.19 PPP in transition which ranks fourth in the NBA.
10. FOURTH QUARTER CRUSHERS
Boston has been an equal opportunity destroyer of teams when it comes to the fourth quarter of games. They come into tonight’s game with the top five players in offensive rating in the fourth quarter who have averaged at least six minutes in the fourth, a group led by Gordon Hayward (142.9) who will be out for around six weeks following surgery to repair a fractured bone in his left hand. The others in the top five are Jaylen Brown (138.5); Kemba Walker (134.9); Daniel Theis, (133.0) and Jayson Tatum (131.1).
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