The Kyrie Irving experiment came to an end, it’s time for Kemba Walker and company to lead the Boston Celtics. Will the San Antonio Spurs be able to sweep the season series like they did last year?
The Boston Celtics made some serious roster moves over the summer. The squad that the San Antonio Spurs will face off against in the 2019-2020 season will look vastly different than last years. Luckily, the Spurs will come into the season with some pre-season scouting, courtesy of USA Basketball.
Kidding aside, the time the Celtics core spent with Gregg Popovich and Team USA will unlikely help the Spurs head coach strategize once the season comes around. But it does provide an additional of familiarity between the teams that the Spurs don’t have with other Eastern Conference teams.
The Celtics are projected to be one of the top teams in the East yet again. Led by Brad Stevens this group has consistently been one of the toughest teams in the league and this year will be no different.
That being said, San Antonio was able to sweep the season series in 2018-19. Stealing a road win in the Garden is a difficult task but one that the Spurs were up to. After an impressive 120-111 win at home on New Year’s Eve, San Antonio wrapped up the season duel in Boston later in the year.
The roster will be different but the plan of attack, and hopefully the outcome, will be the same. Before we get into how the Spurs will take down the Celtics this year let’s take a deeper look at the roster moves they made this off-season.
Next: The 2019-2020 Boston Celtics
The 2019-2020 Boston Celtics
The biggest move that the Boston Celtics made this summer was to bring in All-NBA guard Kemba Walker on a 4-year max deal. The move came as little surprise to anyone who had seen even a minute of Celtics coverage throughout the season.
It took only a few months for Kyrie Irving to pivot from his “I’d love to re-sign here” stance. His pot-shots at his teammates in post-game press circles and typically cryptic/woke posts on Instagram soured relationships in the locker room. Off-court chemistry inevitably leaks into on-court production, as we saw towards the end of the season. Fortunately for Boston, this new group appears to be coming together quite well.
Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Kemba were all members of Team USA squad that traveled to China together this summer. That bonding experience, as disappointing as the end result may have been, will surely help them when the season gets rolling.
Another big change for Boston was the departure of Al Horford. Horford joined the Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia 76ers. Of the two moves, this one has a much larger direct impact on the season series between the Celtics and Spurs.
Kemba Walker is a great player in his own right. But he won’t have as large of an impact on the outcome of the series as Horford would. The proof of that is evident in last seasons matchup.
Horford is one of the best defensive big men in the league, one of few capable of hanging with LaMarcus Aldridge all night. In the first duel between the two, Aldridge was held to 32 points by Horford. Now, 32 points is still an impressive outing. But it pales in comparison to the 48 point eruption Aldridge would have later in the year in Boston while Horford was out.
The Celtics do have a few young big men who will be tasked with containing Aldridge. They drafted the 7’6 Tacko Fall and still have shot-blocking sophomore Robert Williams on the team. They also brought in Enes Kanter to help add offensive scoring power to their defensive-minded frontcourt.
Boston also added Carsen Edwards, the hot-shooting guard from Purdue who lit up March Madness, as well as Grant Williams from Tennessee. Of the two, Williams is more likely to make his mark on the games between the two teams. A high basketball IQ, combined with his strength and versatility, make Williams a great rotation player. He could come in and instantly hold his own against Spurs forwards like Rudy Gay and DeMarre Carroll.
Next: How to sweep the Celtics
How to take down the Celtics
Beating the Celtics starts first and foremost with containing Kemba. Walker can count himself among the players with the tightest handles in the league. He’s got the ball on a string and uses his agility and handle to get anywhere he wants.
Early in his career opposing defenses would sag off and let him try to beat them from deep but Kemba’s developed such a consistent three-point stroke that that strategy is no longer an option. San Antonio will have to latch one of their defensive-minded guards to his hip if they want to win.
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The Spurs would be wise to task Dejounte Murray with hounding Walker the second he touches the ball. At 6’5 with an absurd 6’10 wingspan, Murray can envelop Walker. He’s got the lateral agility to stay in front of Walker for most of the game and the length to cover up his mistakes should he get beat off the dribble.
Neutralizing Boston’s other wing players will be a more difficult task. This game could be one that calls for DeMarre Carrol to be inserted into the starting lineup alongside DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay. The Celtics trio of Brown, Tatum, and Gordon Hayward is the other area that San Antonio will have to key on defensively.
Tatum regressed last year, taking far more mid-range jumpers than Celtics fans would have liked. But he’s still one of the most natural young scorers in the game and should only get better. It will take a concentrated effort from either Gay or Carroll to shut him down.
On the offensive end of the floor the gameplan should be relatively simple: feed Aldridge early and often. He averaged 40 points per game against the Celtics last season and he can do the same, if not better, this year. As was mentioned earlier, the Celtics don’t have Al Horford this year. Robert Williams is a fearsome shot-blocker but I don’t think he has the skill or experience to stay with Aldridge over a full game.
Focusing on running the offense through Aldridge is a strategy that will be employed by the Spurs regularly but it will be particularly important against Boston. If he can replicate his outings from last year there is no reason that San Antonio can’t end the season series 2-0 over Boston once again.