On Tap: The Boston Celtics

 —  February 22, 2005

It’s been almost a couple of decades since this was a must-see NBA matchup, but there is always something exciting about the Boston Celtics coming to town. Twenty years later, those green uniforms still stir my passions.

That said, these are not exactly the 1985 Lakers and Celtics. The Lakers are two games over .500, the Celtics just one (for Boston that’s good enough to lead the Atlantic division). Both are in the playoffs as of now but by just one game and need a strong second half to make sure it stays that way.

In a major role reversal from two decades ago, it is Boston that will want to push the pace tonight — they are fifth in the league averaging 96.8 possessions per game and take 45% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock (shooting 52.9% eFG% on those). The Lakers, for contrast, take jut 37% of their shots in the first 10 seconds. Fast-paced teams have not given the Lakers a ton of problems, they are 7-7 against the 10 fastest-paced teams in the league this season.

What has given the Lakers problems is good point guards, and Gary Payton will try to exploit that. He has a just-above-average PER of 15.68 this season, however he is averaging 7.4 assists and just 2.6 turnovers per 40 minutes.

Of course, the Celtic offense focuses on Paul Pierce. He has a PER of 22.73, is averaging 24.2 points per 40 minutes and is getting to the free throw line 9.3 times in those same minutes (being fouled on 15.5% of his shot attempts). He’s also grabbing 7.6 rebounds per 40 minutes, or 11.1% of the missed shots while he is on the floor. Second on the Celtics in PER is Raef LaFrentz at 18.45.

The player I’m interested in seeing is rookie Al Jefferson, who Celtics fans are very high on. He’s playing just 15.7 minutes per game but has a PER of 17.09, and averages 17.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per 40 minutes. He’s grabbing 17.7% of the missed shots when he’s on the floor, a very good percentage.

For the Lakers, tonight is a good night to attack inside. The Celtics have done a good job defending on the perimeter this season but have been weaker inside (18.4 opponents PER at the four, 17.9 at the five). Lamar Odom should be able to put up good numbers, and this is a great chance for Chris Mihm to show his old team they made a big mistake.

The Lakers may be without Caron Butler tonight, who missed the morning shoot around because he really doesn’t feel well (and is not just about to be traded).

These first two games out of the block after the All Star break are going to tell us a lot about the Lakers — both Boston and Portland are teams the Lakers can beat, but will lose to if they don’t show up ready to go. These are tough wins, but the kind the Lakers need if they want to hold off Minnesota.