Portland Trail Blazers (9-3) vs. Boston Celtics (4-7)
Sunday, November 23
TD Garden; Boston, MA | 3:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: C.J. McCollum | Out for the Celtics: Marcus Smart, Vitor Faverani
SBN Affiliate: CelticsBlog | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Celtics Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers kick off a three-game road trip this afternoon in a 3:00 p.m. matchup with the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden.
The Celtics feature one of the most efficient offenses in the league, perhaps unexpectedly, leading the league in points in the paint (48.2 per game), assists (26.5) and field goals made (41.9) and attempted (87.4). They score a ton of points, push the ball often and shoot well within the arc.
Boston's record sits at 4-7, though, and the Celtics come into today's game having lost four of their last five contests. Though the offense routinely produces 105 or more points, Boston's defense is the weak link.
The Celtics can be easily bullied in the paint and taken advantage of from the perimeter. They have the worst fourth quarter defense in the NBA and allowed the Grizzlies -- a team that averages just over 99 points per game -- to drop 117 on them Friday night, giving up 66 points inside and 8-for-16 shooting from deep.
Boston coach Brad Stevens remarked on his team's two-way struggles to ESPNBoston.com reporter Chris Forsberg last week:
"We scored 114 points against Phoenix and 121 against Cleveland -- that's enough. We gotta shore up the other end of the floor."
And that about sums it up -- the Celtics put plenty of points on the board but often fail in preventing opposing teams from doing the same.
Stevens' rotation goes about 10-deep. Starting point guard Rajon Rondo leads the way, averaging 10.8 assists per game over the last five, second in the NBA in that span behind Denver's Ty Lawson. Rondo shoots under 10 times per game, many of his attempts coming at the basket where he's a good finisher. He also pulls up from deep a couple times a night, where he's actually been pretty efficient recently. Rondo's worst shot is in the midrange, and he's not shy to shoot there even though it's not a good look for him.
The Celtics' offense is largely based on Rondo's penetration, as he has a few talented shooters around him he can kick it out to for open looks. He explained some of Boston's offense to Masslive.com Thursday:
"We're a unique team," Rondo said. "Our bigs are our shooters on the team for the most part. We saw (against the 76ers) how we closed the game out; (Jared Sullinger) hit some big shots for us. So we put teams in different positions. The 5s aren't used to closing out to the 3-point line. And you have to close all the way out to a guy like Sullinger or Kelly (Olynyk). I like the way we're going. I'm a pass-first point guard, I like to get to the paint and make plays for my teammates. And we definitely have the shooters around me to make shots."
Sullinger, starting power forward, plays about 29 minutes a night and leads the Celtics in shot attempts per game over the last five with 13.6 per contest, hitting over half of them. He's great at converting baskets within the arc, able to score inside and also extend out to 15 feet or more. Sullinger also passes well for a big man.
Olynyk, who starts in the middle, is an equally good shooter as Sullinger, but he prefers to step out to the three-point line in lieu of attempting long 2-pointers. He's nailed 40 percent of his threes the last five games, including 3-of-5 Friday night against the Grizzlies (Sullinger went 3-of-6).
Kevin O'Connor of CelticsBlog.com went through several advanced statistics and broke down Boston's best frontcourt pairings in an excellent article last week, and revealed Sullinger and Olynyk as one of Stevens' better all-around power forward/center combinations available.
The Celtics are a pretty miserable three-point shooting team, and forward Jeff Green and shooting guard Avery Bradley, both starters, have a lot to do with that. They've both attempted more than four outsides shots a night the last five games, though Green is just 9.1 percent from deep in that time and Bradley is 30 percent. They both score much, much better from inside than from outside, so the Blazers might look to cut off their lanes to the basket while living with long jumpers from the wings.
Forwards Brandon Bass and center Tyler Zeller form the majority of Stevens' bench frontcourt rotation. Zeller is the best healthy rim protector the Celtics have, but doesn't shoot often. When he does, he's demonstrated a nice touch around the basket but is limited offensively, otherwise.
Bass is a solid jumpshooter from 10-15 feet and finishes well inside, helping to space the floor when Sullinger and Olynyk are out of the game.
Shooting guard Marcus Thornton is an offensive threat off the bench, able to hit threes and get to the rim. Don't expect him to setup teammates consistently, though, as that's more the role of backup wing Evan Turner, who has taken just 6.4 shots per game in over 20 minutes a night the last five, averaging 4.2 assists. Point guard Phil Pressey plays about 15 nondescript minutes a night, not scoring often but not turning it over often, either, and managing the offense with Rondo on the bench.
The Blazers come in as one of the hottest team's in the NBA, having won eight of their last nine contests and six straight. Portland passes the ball well, putting up a ton of threes and making them at a 39.7 percent rate, good for No. 3 in the league.
Point guard Damian Lillard has been dominant offensively the last five games, averaging 25.8 points and 8.4 assists per night on 56.4 percent shooting from the field and a scorching 64.5 percent from outside. He's been good at attacking the basket and has finished at a pretty good rate, but it's his outside jumpers right now that are really breaking the backs of opposing defenses. Rondo and Bradley are good individual perimeter defenders, but as a whole, the Celtics struggle to stop teams from hitting threes on them. Lillard may not be as effective today off-the-dribble as he usually is, but he should be able to punish Boston from deep in catch-and-shoot situations.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has eased back into his role as top-dog in Blazers coach Terry Stotts' offense, still leading the team in field goal attempts but deferring to Lillard often. Aldridge splits his shots between the paint and the midrange. He's been converting decently inside lately, but his jumper has been a bit off the last five games, as he's hit just 32.3 percent of his midrange shots in that span compared to 42.3 percent for the season. He had a somewhat quiet night in the win over the Bulls Friday, hitting 6-of-13 shots for 16 points in just 28 minutes, largely due to the Blazers having a comfortable lead through three quarters and Stotts resting his starters for the majority of the fourth.
Aldridge should be aggressive tonight, as neither Sullinger, Olynyk nor Bass can match up with him individually; the nine-year veteran from Texas averaged 24.5 points per game on 57.6 percent shooting from the field in two games against the Celtics last year.
Shooting guard Wesley Matthews' efficiency from the field has dipped the last several games, but he showed some promise Friday night that his shooting is getting back on track, hitting five of his eight field goals for 12 points against the Bulls. He's struggled from deep lately, though, and should look to capitalize on Boston's suspect perimeter defense. Matthews is taller than Bradley and bulkier than Thornton and Turner, so Blazers fans can expect to see his inside-game on display tonight.
Nicolas Batum, small forward, returned to Portland's lineup on Friday and had a quiet night, hitting 4-of-6 shots while picking up 3 rebounds and an assist in limited time. For the season, he's second on the Blazers in assists per game (behind Lillard), and he'll likely be looking to distribute the ball to his teammates tonight.
Stotts' center rotation of starter Robin Lopez and backup Chris Kaman continues to shine offensively, as they've combined for 23.6 points per game over the last five as Lopez has hit 63.9 percent of his shots and Kaman 52 percent of his. Typically, Stotts splits the playing time at center between the two fairly evenly, though Kaman gets more offensive looks as the Blazers' leading scorer off the bench.
Backup point guard Steve Blake has played heavy minutes recently, and has struggled with his jumper in limited attempts. Still, he gets the ball to his teammates and doesn't turn the ball over often. Wing Allen Crabbe has played big minutes the last couple weeks, first with Batum hurt and now guard CJ McCollum on the injured reserve list. Crabbe rarely looks for his own shot, but obliterated Chicago wing Tony Snell on a fastbreak dunk Friday night.
Reserve big man Joel Freeland is good for about a dozen minutes a game, but won't look to score often as he contributes mostly with hustle plays and second-chance points on misses. Forward Meyers Leonard and wing Will Barton may see a few minutes tonight, but their roles in Stotts' offense are situational at best right now. Forwards Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright aren't likely to get off the bench unless a blowout is underway.
Boston is a pretty good rebounding team, with Sullinger as the best individually on the boards. Rondo is one of the best rebounding guards in the NBA, so Lillard -- who is no slouch on the glass, himself -- and Blake will have their hands full trying to keep him boxed out. Kaman, Freeland, Aldridge and Lopez are all solid individual rebounders for Portland, with strong wing contributions from Matthews and Batum. As a team, the Blazers are very good on the offensive glass and average defensively, percentage-wise -- they get a lot of total defensive rebounds, but they create a lot of misses, too, and opposing teams get their share of offensive rebounds on them.
The Blazers' defense has played well all season, stopping ball movement and limiting efficient 2-point shots and threes. The Celtics are horrible from outside, but they have a solid penetrator in Rondo who can finish at the rim or find teammates around the perimeter. Portland's bigs may have trouble when Sullinger, Olynyk and Bass are stretching the floor, and it will be interesting to see if Stotts stops can prevent easy points at the basket while keeping a lid on Boston's jumpshooting bigs. Don't be surprised to see heavy minutes for Aldridge and Kaman. Forcing Rondo, Green and Bradley into jumpers could prove effective today.
After a start to the season that was heavy with home games -- nine of Portland's 12 matchups have been at the Moda Center so far this year -- the Blazers must show that they can win on the road, as well. That starts tonight in Boston, against a Celtics team that can bury teams offensively. Portland should be able to score against a porous Boston defense, but they'll have to slow down a Celtics offense that can attack from several different directions with one of the best passers in the league at the helm to start this three-game East Coast road swing with a win.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter