When: 7 pm AZ time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Suns - Elfrid Payton, Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss
Celtics - Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Aron Baynes
OffRtg = 105.7 (16th) , DefRtg = 101.3 (1st) , NetRtg = 4.4 (5th)
Without Kyrie Irving likely through the first round of the playoffs after removing a tension wire from his knee, Boston will keep humming along with Rozier manning the point. And with Rozier in there, the Celtics get even better defensively with his aggressive on-ball style.
Boston is likely to now rely upon Tatum to be their top option scoring alongside Horford, which will call for him to return to his early season form where he couldn’t miss anything. When Irving is sidelined, the duo of Tatum and Brown will increase in terms of scoring and playmaking.
I expect not only those young Celtics to step up but thrive in this multi-week situation without their alpha. They will still finish with a top two seed in the Eastern Conference while having not only Irving return soon enough, but Marcus Smart and possibly Gordon Hayward as well.
From a team building perspective, Phoenix should try to mimic Boston in some ways. Ryan McDonough’s former boss in Danny Ainge has perfectly crafted a blend of win-now impact pieces around a nucleus of budding young talent. Not only are the Celtics set up for immediate success but long-term dominance out East if LeBron James bolts this summer.
McDonough has his three pillars — Booker, Jackson, top 2018 pick — but nothing else around them. I continue to preach a complete roster overhaul with the Suns because that’s obviously what is needed now with the lack of talent around their young pieces.
If the Suns want to pull a similar manuever towards contention, copying similar answers from his front office mentor might be in play. For Boston, it’s paid off big-time.
OffRtg = 101.1 (30th), DefRtg = 110.5 (30th), NetRtg = -9.4 (30th)
On Saturday, interim head coach Jay Triano mentioned that Booker would go through pregame warmups to test out his sprained hand so we will find out his status around 6:20 tonight. If he’s able to go, that gives the Suns a better chance but not by much.
As I mentioned previously, Booker currently has such little talent around him that he’s not able to show off his improvements consistently. It’s a pleasant surprise that Booker has rapidly ascending even through the situations he’s had to go through, but it goes to show he’s ready to win.
Now, it’s time for action this summer from the Suns’ front office.
Stepping back for a second, it seems like this season was planned by the Suns because they have been playing the league’s youngest rotation all season. They went right to starting both Chriss and Bender ironically at game 72 so they will get 10 opportunities to see how that frontcourt works together.
The Suns also didn’t do anything to improve the roster last summer. It sure seems they hoped that playing this amount of minutes would help mature their young nucleus at an accelerated rate.
Now, looking back on it, was it worth it? Phoenix got their likely answer, but I’m sure a roster overhaul with some of their drafted talent wasn’t to be expected. Right now, I doubt anyone on this 2017-2018 roster stays next season outside of 5-7 names.
Change is in the air in Phoenix, but the constant with Booker, Jackson, and whoever they select on June 21 remains.
Will McDonough and Co. fumble their best opportunity of building a championship contender in over a decade or correctly walk through the minefield of moves planned this summer? That’s the answer many are anxiously waiting for because Booker and others are definitely watching for the right result to occur.
Even if Booker makes his return tonight against a wounded Celtics team, I expect more of the same. Boston is built similar to Utah where their long wings will aggressively get into Booker all game and make him become more of a playmaker.
That sounds like a game where Payton will need to step up in the backcourt, but his pure lack of effort as of late shows that Rozier is likely to grill him all night.
Booker should have a nice bounce back if he returns alongside another strong performance from Jackson, but that won’t be close to enough against a deeper and more talented Celtics roster.
Until proven otherwise, I’m going with whoever the Suns play by double-digits.
Celtics 113, Suns 96