Boston Celtics return from three-day layoff tonight against Utah Jazz

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Damn, it feels like forever since I’ve seen the Celtics play. After having played eight games in twelve days, it seems like the Celtics have had a second offseason with their three full days off. In fact, I keep waiting for talks of valuable free agents to pop up. (“Who should the Celtics sign – Grant Hill? Carlos Arroyo? Bobby Jackson? Fine, I guess they’ll settle for Marquis Daniels.”) Since the Celtics last played (about four months ago), I’ve been watching the poo-poo platter of games on NBA League Pass and wondering why in the hell they can’t have a premier matchup while the Celtics are off. Instead, Cleveland has to play Orlando at the same time as Boston takes on the Utah Jazz. Oy Vay.

Anyways, the Celtics looked unbelievable through their first five games. They were steam-rolling opponents, bashing them and battering them, and stating their case as the NBA’s top team.

Then, the Minnesota Timberwolves happened and, all of a sudden, things went a little downhill. During that T-Wolves game, it wasn’t a Celtic who was the best player on the court. Hell, it wasn’t even Al Jefferson. It was Oleksiy Pecherov. The Celtics escaped with a win, but started a trend of playing down to their opponent’s level. The next two games, against Phoenix and New Jersey, ended with a loss to the Suns and another slim escape from the grip of a big upset against New Jersey.

A lot of people will blame the recent poor play on the brutal schedule featuring eight games in twelve days. To be fair, the schedule was daunting. Not only did the Celtics play all those games in twelve days, but they had to travel for at least one absurd set of back-to-back games: The Celtics played in Philly one night, then in Minnesota the next. Doesn't the NBA realize how long that is to travel, then play the next day?

But not all the Celtics' problems can be blamed on the poor schedule. Only eight games and twelve days into their schedule, shouldn't the Celtics still be fresh? No matter how many games they played in the season's first two weeks, shouldn't the Celtics have rejuvenated legs after a longer-than-expected offseason?

Before the season, the biggest question mark surrounding the C's was their age. Now that Boston is showing its age and playing with old, tired legs, people are blaming it on the schedule. The truth is, the Celtics will struggle with older legs at times this year. There will be times when they won't play their best, and there will be times when their energy is lacking. Hell, there already have been. As a Celtics fan, you just have to hope they'll have enough in the tank to bring it every night come playoff time. I won’t get too down when they don’t play well during the regular season, especially when it’s obvious the only thing lacking is their energy. I trust them enough to know the Celtics will leave their hearts on the floor when it matters. I think.

People have said the C’s won’t face such a rigorous stretch of eight games in twelve days in the playoffs. They’d be right about that, but they’d also be forgetting that the Celts have yet to play a grueling game with playoff intensity. Those eight games were hardly played with that type of passion and grit characteristic of playoff games. The Celtics won’t play as many games in as short a time span during the palyoffs, but they will likely exert at least as much energy. In a long, seven game series, with each team battling for 48 minutes every game, will the Celtics have enough legs to battle through the nicks, aches and pains that accumulate over an NBA season? I don’t know, and we won’t find out until they try. For now, they failed the first test of the “old legs” exam, but are still 7-1 after the grueling eight-game stretch. It could be a lot worse.

Putting that eight-game stretch behind them, the Celtics face Utah tonight at the TD Garden, looking to turn things around at home after a rare home loss to the Suns. Here are some things to look for during tonight’s game:

1. Eric Maynor starting at point guard for the Jazz?

Backup Ronnie Price is already out, and Deron Williams is probably out too. That would leave rookie Eric Maynor, who’s played only 16 minutes on the entire season, as the only point guard. On behalf of the entire state of Utah, Yikes.

I actually liked Maynor coming out of college. He’s an intelligent player who changes speeds well and is always under control. He can shoot, score, and make plays -- or at least he could in college. Now, who knows? No matter how talented, a rookie point guard with only 16 minutes under his belt should truly struggle against the likes of Rajon Rondo. Especially when Rondo starts telling Maynor he’ll never win a ring.

2. Utah’s lack of wing scoring

With Ronnie Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, and Wes Matthews (Wes Matthews??) playing the brunt of the wing minutes, the Jazz can really struggle to put the ball in the hole from the perimeter. If Deron Williams is out, too, the Jazz could be in for a tough time against Boston’s defense.

3. Boston’s frontcourt defense vs. Utah’s frontcourt scoring

With Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap, and Mehmet Okur, the Jazz big men can score both inside and out. The Celtics have great interior defense, but will be tested by the scoring, toughness, and versatility of Utah’s big men. Look for this matchup to go a long way in determining who wins the game, although, if Deron Williams sits, the Jazz could be in for a looonnnggggggg night.


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