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Preview: The Celtics are cooling off as they come to Phoenix to play the Suns

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Boston is tied for the best record in the NBA and poses some matchup problems for the Suns.

Atlanta Hawks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Boston Celtics (10-2) at Phoenix Suns (7-4)

When: Monday, Nov. 18 at 7:00 p.m. local time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


They may not be as flashy, but the Celtics present one of the toughest tests of the season for the Suns, in a class with the Clippers, Sixers and Lakers in terms of pedigree.

Yet the Suns beat two of those teams and stayed close with LeBron James and the Lakers.

Does that mean they can dethrone Boston from the top record in the NBA?

It could.

But at the same time, the Celtics pose problems for Phoenix that have challenged the Suns at times this year.

“One on one defense is going to be a big deal tonight,” coach Monty Williams said. Even if you take out the primary, secondary options, they are a team where they have a number of guys that have bounce in their game and get their own shot.”

The Celtics’ depth of wing playmakers could lead to difficulties that crept up in losses to Miami and the Lakers. Or, Boston’s athletic big men could create advantages like we saw Utah and Atlanta exploit.

The Sun is shining

111.9 ORtg (4th) - 104.4 DRtg (8th) = plus-7.4 NetRtg (4th)

Projected starters: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Aron Baynes

There are very few holes in this team as long as they stay healthy.

But Boston, like the Suns, is deep, well-coached and led by scoring stars who can create good offense at any time. Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker will get the majority of the attention defensively, but thanks to coach Brad Stevens’ scheme, any player can punish them on a given possession.

“We’ve gotta be disciplined to stay down on pump fakes, not foul jump-shooters, and at the same time, Kanter’s on the back side getting offensive rebounds, Williams is athletic, Grant is a guy that’s tough, so there’s a reason why they have their record,” Williams said.

“We have to be playing with a high level of discipline when you play a team like this.”

James and his Lakers teammates as well as Jimmy Butler and the Heat punished the Suns by reading the Suns’ defense and challenging it with aggressive drive-and-kick offense. The Suns love to send help early and their second effort allows them to recover and stay in possessions. Great playmakers have picked it apart.

Will the Celtics’ stars do so, or can the Suns create their own advantages? We’ll see.

A few other notes as we head into the game:

  • Watch the rotation. Cam Johnson checked in before Mikal Bridges against the Hawks. Will the rookie continue to get more opportunities?
  • The Suns can use Baynes as an advantage as well. Can you really imagine Enes Kanter covering Baynes pick-and-pops? Me neither.
  • The Booker-Marcus Smart matchup is what we’re all here for. More on that next.

The Celtics are cooling off

112.4 ORtg (2nd) - 104.7 DRtg = plus-7.7 NetRtg

Projected starters: Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis (or Enes Kanter)

Over the weekend, Boston eked out a win over the G League Warriors and then lost by 1 to the Kings. That’s not the type of NorCal performance you expect from a top seed. The loss of Gordon Hayward might be catching up to the Celtics, finally.

Still, Brown has leveled up again after signing a new deal with Boston. Tatum is back to his usual self after struggling to acclimate to Kyrie Irving’s presence. And, as Williams said at shootaround, Kemba is Kemba.

The biggest issue of all, though, could be Smart. The Suns can’t afford Booker to get into foul trouble, and even if he is in the game, scoring on Smart is among the greatest challenges in the NBA.

Booker, of course, isn’t worried.

“He’s going to do all the dirty work, a really good defender, he’s going to make it tough on you,” Booker said. “But you just have to go out their and play your game, play within the team, play within the offense and I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”

Final notes before prediction time:

  • Booker said it’s Baynes’ teammates’ job to make sure emotions don’t ride too high against the team that traded him this summer.
  • The Celtics’ bench is probably exploitable, as they rely on a lot of inexperienced players while the Suns bring Tyler Johnson and Frank Kaminsky in as the second unit.
  • Tatum doesn’t bring the functional strength that Butler or LeBron did, meaning Kelly Oubre Jr. might be able to handle him, which would help the Suns a great deal.
  • The Celtics played yesterday in Sacramento, while the Suns are coming off three days rest.

Prediction time

This one is going to come down to who can defend better as a team and who’s playmakers can beat those defenses more consistently. To that end, I think Booker will be the best individual shot-creator on the floor. If the Suns can prevent Kanter, Theis and Robert Williams from getting easy buckets inside, Booker’s scoring should be enough to turn things in Phoenix’s favor.

Suns 120, Celtics 110