Boston: 108.9 points/100 possessions (10th)
Phoenix: 114.6 points/100 possessions (1st)
Boston: 99.5 points allowed/100 possessions (1st)
Phoenix: 110.6 points allowed/100 possessions (27th)
Probable Phoenix starters:
Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Amare Stoudemire
Thumbnail: The C’s look to finish their three-game West Coast swing with a win after two straight wrenching losses.
WHAT THE SUNS DO WELL:
*Shoot. From everywhere. They lead the league in offensive efficiency, which you’d expect, considering they lead the league in effective field-goal percentage and three-point shooting (an insane 42.2 percent). But they are deadly from everywhere. Check out Hoopdata’s shot location info: The Suns rank 12th in the NBA in shooting percentage at the rim (61.3 percent), 3rd on shots from between the rim and 10 feet out (51.2%), 1st on shots from between 10 and 15 feet (45.4 %) and 1st on long two-pointers (44.4%).
That is crazy. I mean, this is the basic point of basketball—putting it in the hoop—and the Suns do it better than anyone else, from every place on the court.
A lot of this is obviously due to the brilliance of Steve Nash (as both shooter and passer), but it’s not all Nash; eleven teams register assists on a higher percentage of their hoops. This is about Nash playing alongside a bunch of guys who can shoot, create off the dribble and finish on the break.
* The Nash-Stoudemire screen/roll. Maybe the deadliest offensive play in the NBA. The book on Nash is that he prefers to run this play dribbling to his left. Watch if the C’s (and Rajon Rondo) try and shade him the other way.
* Balance. Though this team still plays fast (only three clubs average more possessions per game), this is not as extreme a club as the D’Antoni Seven Seconds or Less Crew. Those teams didn’t bother with offensive rebounding; this team ranks in the middle of the league in grabbing its own misses. Those teams never got to the foul line; this team takes one free throw for about every 4.2 shot attempts—the 18th-highest mark in the league.
Again, those aren’t great rankings. But they’re not 29th and 30th, and being mediocre at something is better than punting that category.
WHAT THE SUNS DO POORLY
* Defend the three.
The Suns actually don’t give up a ton of three-point attempts (18.9 per game, the 9th-highest opponent total in the league) considering their fast pace of play. But teams have hit 36.9 percent of those threes, and that’s bad. Fourth-worst in the league bad.
After going 6-of-31 from deep over the last two games, Boston could really use some open looks from deep in this one.
* Protect the rim. Opponents are hitting 63.2 percent of their shots at the rim against the Suns, according to Hoopdata; only five teams have allowed a higher percentage.
So: The Suns have problems defending the longest and shortest shots. In theory, this plays right into the hands of Boston’s offense, which is designed to get the highest number of looks from those two positions.
On the other hand, the Suns are also bad at…
* Protecting the defensive glass. The Suns are an awful defensive rebounding team. Just awful. They rebound just 69.6 percent of opponent misses, ahead of the same putrid Golden State team that just beat the C’s on Monday. This failure is the main reason for that ugly #27 ranking in defensive efficiency you see at the top of this preview, and it helps explain why Phoenix opponents hit such a high percentage of shots at the rim. Offensive rebounds lead to put-backs, which are generally easy buckets.
Fortunately for Phoenix, the Celtics are the 5th-worst offensive rebounding team in the league, and the best offensive rebounder on the roster left Monday’s game—just the third he’s played in this season—on crutches.
PLAYER/S WHO MAKE ME WORRY:
* Nash and Stoudemire. We’ve already covered this.
* Frye. Not such because Frye on his own induces fear. But because the big man combination of Stoudemire and Frye presents match-up problems for Kendrick Perkins. Chasing Frye around the three-point arc is a job better fit for Kevin Garnett, but Stoudemire’s ability to slash—with and without the ball—from 18-feet out all the way to rim might be too much for Perk.
There’s a reason Perk played just 24:40 in Phoenix’s win in Boston earlier this season.
PLAYER/S WHO DO NOT MAKE ME WORRY:
* Of their regulars? Almost everyone, including their key bench guys (the progressing-quite-nicely Goran Dragic and the offensive rebounding machine that is Louis Amundson), makes me worry when Phoenix has the ball. But we’ve got to pick someone (and Robin Lopez is too easy), so we’ll go with Grant Hill.
Hill has become a durable player, but he’s no longer a dangerous scoring threat in the half court unless Steve Nash is handing him the ball in prime position. I’ll take Grant Hill isolations all day long.
Wait, the C’s have no one to play small forward? Oh.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE FROM THE C’s TONIGHT:
* Take care of the freaking basketball and score. A lot of the focus will be on Boston’s all-world D stopping the Suns’ league-leading O, but I have a feel the match-up on the other side of the court will decide this game. Chances are, the Suns will score at a slightly reduced rate against Boston (let’s give ‘em 108 points per 100 possessions).
Can the C’s offense keep up? Even without Pierce, it should be able to. But the team has to clean up its mistakes to do that.
* Minute control. I understand it’s tempting to play Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo 90 minutes combined when the team is short-handed and involved in a tight West Coast roadie. But it’s still December, and I’m not comfortable with Rajon Rondo becoming a 45-minute-per-game player taking 20 shots and hitting the floor 15 times per game on offense—not even during this stretch without Pierce.
* Shelden’s time. You want some PT? Here’s a big, big chance to prove you deserve it (and I personally think you do). With no Big Baby and match-up issues for Perk, this game begs for Shelden to play a productive 15 minutes.
The C’s are angry, and they’ll clean up the turnovers against a defensive sieve in Phoenix. Boston 105, Phoenix 102.