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Game Preview: Suns finish road trip facing Celtics

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NBA: Boston Celtics at Phoenix Suns Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns @ Boston Celtics

When: Time: 5:00 pm (Phoenix time)

Where: TD Garden, Massachusetts

TV: Fox Sports Arizona

Radio: 98.7 FM


The Phoenix Suns finish their three game road trip by heading to Boston tonight to face the Celtics. So far, the Suns look like they’ve regained their winning ways, going 6-4 in their last ten and winning three of their last four games. However, the last time these two teams faced, the Celtics beat the Suns in Phoenix 99-85 in November. Can the Suns keep their winning ways going?

Boston Celtics

  • Points: Kemba Walker (22.1)
  • Rebounds: Enes Kanter (8.2)
  • Assists: Kemba Walker (4.9)

The Celtics have been excellent so far this season, going 27-13 and holding onto the three seed in the East. The team has played well on both sides of the ball, ranking in the top ten in defensive rating (fourth, 105.3) and offensive rating (sixth, 111.6).

The offense, particularly the scoring, has been led by Kemba Walker (22.1), Jayson Tatum (21.2) and Jaylen Brown (20), all three of which averaging 20+ points per game. Walker has truly shined with the Celtics after years being stuck on a mediocre team, continuously excelling not only as the leader but as the focal point of the offense. There were numerous games where Walker has showed up big time to get the Celtics over the edge. While Walker is also racking up 4.9 assists per game, the rest of the team is struggling on this front as the team is 24th in assist percentage with 56.3, the Suns are first in that category.

It’s the defense where the Celtics really make their money as the team gives up the second fewest points per game with 105.2 and has the second best point differential in the league with +6.3. The team allows the seventh fewest assists per game with 23.1 and the ninth most turnovers with 15.5. The defense, led by Marcus Smart, is filled to the brim with long, aggressive players who know what they’re doing and how to cause havoc all 48 minutes.

The thing that makes it all work is head coach Brad Stevens. Stevens has done a brilliant job this season getting the most out of his players and developing them. The defense since he’s been there has always been among the best in the league and now that Tatum and Brown are growing, the offense is starting to find its mark.

Phoenix Suns

  • Points: Devin Booker (26.2)
  • Rebounds: Deandre Ayton (12.0)
  • Assist: Ricky Rubio (9.4)

After a rough 15 game stretch where the Suns looked like they hadn’t changed, the team has done well to rally. They’re currently three wins out of the eighth seed at 17-24 and though the team might not make the playoffs, just competing for that spot is leaps and bounds better than where they were last year.

The team is in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive (109.8, 14th) and defensive rating (110.3, 19th). One thing that’s not average on this team is Devin Booker’s play, as the future All-Star has been leading the team in points with 26.2 points per game along with 6.3 assists per game. In the last few games, Booker has been a massive difference maker in terms of showing up in the fourth quarter when games are close, averaging 31 ppg in January. He hasn’t always been able to close them out (look at the Atlanta game) but he’s been looking better and better as the season progresses.

The importance of Deandre Ayton cannot be understated in this game. While the Celtics have a great team defense, it doesn’t employ a rim-protector/big man that can handle Ayton when he’s on. Ayton had himself an amazing game against the Knicks last Thursday, racking up 26 points and 21 rebounds. He was playing extremely aggressive on defense that we didn’t see last year. If he can play anything like that against the Celtics, it’s going to be tough for Boston to stop him.

The rest of the Suns have played well during this recent stretch, Ricky Rubio has been a model point guard, averaging 9.7 assists per game in the month of January. Kelly Oubre Jr. is out again as he goes through concussion protocol. Mikal Bridges, Aron Baynes and Dario Saric make up the rest of the lineup/rotation and they’ve done well so far.

Like the Celtics, the head coach of the Suns has been a game changer for the team. Monty Williams has changed the culture of the team and though there was a lot of talent on it, that talent wasn’t able to finish games. By bringing in Rubio, Williams has turned around the offense that was previously dominated by Booker and got them first in assist percentage and ninth in pacing (102.4). Whatever happens this season, Williams deserves as much credit as anyone on this team for this success.

Prediction:

This is a tough one to predict as the Suns are on a roll, unlike the Celtics, yet the Celtics are at home while the Suns are at the end of their road trip. I think we’ll see Booker and Ayton in rare form tonight, attacking the paint and avoiding the lengthy wings of the Celtics.

I think it’s going to be close but the Suns will put out a 115-112 win.