Offensive rating: Spurs – 106.5 (2nd), Celtics – 98.6 (25th)
Defensive rating: Spurs – 101.4 (13th), Celtics – 95.8 (2nd)
Pace: Spurs – 94.5 (8th), Celtics – 92.3 (22nd)
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Radio: WOAI-AM 1200, KCOR-AM 1350
Rajon Rondo. Rondo is an anomaly. And that synopsis is probably a bit of an understatement. In his last game against the Miami Heat, Rondo totaled 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting, 14 assists and 11 rebounds, recording his fifth triple double of the season in the process. His infallible decision making against the usually stout Heat pick-and-roll defense led to an impressive 19 point victory over a struggling Heat team. Recently, Rondo has seen his assist totals rise precipitously (12.9 assists during March) and his points, field goal percentage and free throw percentage decrease. Rondo’s inability to space the floor and create for himself has been widely publicized among NBA circles, and while that is partly true, his field goal percentage from 16-23 feet isn’t completely abominable. Granted, a majority of his shots are of the wide-open variety. Boston is 20-8 when Rondo totals 10-plus assists versus 4-10 when Rondo totals nine or less assists, illustrating the inherent value of their 26-year-old point guard.
Since the acquisitions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics have had the Spurs’ number, as they have outscored the Spurs by 5.3 points in their six victories over the Spurs. Interestingly, though, Boston enjoyed more success at the AT&T Center than the TD Garden. I just contradicted myself. I don’t know what to think anymore. Uhhhh, let’s just move on.
Also interesting is the two win-streaks at state tonight. Boston is currently on a five gamer and have done so by limiting their opponents below 95 points per 100 possessions four times. San Antonio holds the longest winning streak in the league at eight games and have notched 100 points per 100 possessions seven times with the only exception coming against the No. 1 ranked defense.
Offense vs. Defense. Yes, this is rather simplistic. But tonight’s game will come down to offense and defense (I know I really am too insightful for my own good). The second-ranked Celtic defense excels in preventing 3-point attempts and creating turnovers, which are invaluable given their below-average offensive efficiency. They don’t necessarily prevent attempts at the rim like the Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers but, instead, they force teams to shoot 58.4 percent and a below-average assist percentage on these particular attempts. Perhaps more importantly is the increased utilization of 6’2″ point guard Avery Bradley, a dominating defensive point guard that, like Rondo, is very limited offensively. Bradley can’t spot up from behind the arc (20.8 3-point percentage) but he seems to cut with a proper cadence off Rondo pick-and-rolls. A majority of his 13 points on Sunday occurred simply because of his off the ball cutting ability. If Bradley can continue to bring his elite defense and somewhat offset that with his ability to play off Rondo, then that’ll only make it tougher for the Spurs offense. The Rondo-Bradley-Pierce-Bass-KG lineup allows 87.6 points per 100 possessions on 34.7 percent shooting.
Final verdict. Spurs by three. The Celtics are strong enough defensively and have enough weapons to end the Spurs eight game win streak. But, considering both teams are playing good basketball, I’ll side with the Spurs because I am a homer. And because I think they are the better team, even when you adjust for being on the road.