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GAME 27 vs Boston, Preview & Game Thread

Now that we have three days of perspective, I think it's fair to say Sunday night's Denver game was the biggest blow to our collective spirit since the pre-Thanksgiving stomach punch at the hands of Utah last season.

No time to wallow in John Salmon's tears.

BOSTON CELTICS (22-3)     112.0 ORtg (# 6),  95.2 DRtg (# 1), 89.4 Pace (#21)
SACRAMENTO KINGS (11-15)  106.4 ORtg (#17), 109.2 DRtg (#22), 92.2 Pace (#11)

Last we saw the Celtics, the Kings surprisingly stuck in there for three full quarters. It was a terrifically low-tempo game -- each team ended up with less than 85 possessions, which is much slow than the Kings want to play. With only three losses, it is difficult to tell whether Boston would struggle against fast-paced teams more than slow ones. (Detroit and Cleveland are slow; Orlando is fast.) But there are a few reasons you'd like to see Sacramento push the pace:
  1. Boston is susceptible to turnovers. Boston's offense is #24 in the league in turnover percentage. Surprisingly, Rajon Rondo hasn't been the main culprit here: Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins have tons of turnovers, and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett give it up more than they should as scorers. I think this can be blamed on Rondo a bit indirectly, as Pierce and Garnett have to create a lot for themselves and each other without an alpha PG on the floor. But Pierce nor KG are going to run a break; if you can (somehow) lure Rondo into pressing the pace, you might be able to generate some more wasted possessions for the C's.
  2. Boston's team defense is better than its individual defenders. The Celtics' defense has shocked everyone. Many thought defense would be a huge problem for the team, despite the presence of Garnett. It hasn't. Boston's defense is on a tier of its own. Still, only Garnett and Rondo are plus-defenders; Ray Allen can be beat, Perkins isn't blocking much, Pierce can handle Ron Artest only intermittently. Pressing the offense more can only help. Getting John Salmons down the floor puts the Boston defense in less sure position; KG can still help, but the rotations will be behind and Salmons is a good-enough passer to make the C's pay. Ditto with Artest and Francisco Garcia. If KG again guards Brad Miller and/or vice versa, Mikki Moore's speed down the floor could add opportunities for easier buckets. Attacking this defense in the half-court will always be difficult; every easy basket helps a ton.
  3. Test Doc Rivers. Last season, no one thought Doc was a decent coach. He hasn't really been tested this year -- his team's talent has outweighed any possible tricks or issues he'd have to deal with from the bench. Much had been made early on regarding how many minutes the Big Three had played; Doc almost immediately started limiting minutes. Will an up-tempo game scare him into resting his starters more than usual? Add in this is Game #1 of an interest-piquing four-game Western road trip; could Doc feel some pressure to keep plenty in reserve? If the Kings let the shot clock get to 4 seconds every time, KG and Allen and Pierce aren't going to be sucking wind. Transition defense is more exhausting than half-court defense. Even if it doesn't result in tangible points every time down, pushing the ball could introduce the scenario in which the Big Three only play 32-35 minutes. It's not a certainty, but the benefit certainly outweighs the negligible cost. (As in, what do you have to lose? Is the Sacramento half-court offense so good you can't afford a transition mistake or two?)
I'm not sure we'll see the Kings kick it up more than is typical; this is the #11 highest tempo team in the league, one which tends to play to the opponents' pace more than establish its own. But this is a game where I think a conscious decision to run makes sense. Do Reggie Theus and his staff think so too? We'll see.

Game's at 7 p.m. Go Kings.