2-on-2: Celtics vs. Rockets (Game 37 of 66)
1. What about the Houston Rockets should scare the Celtics on Tuesday?
Payne: The Rockets boast one of the 10 most efficient offenses in the league, according to HoopData, and they're an above-average offensive rebounding team, which means they have some of the tools needed to strip down and exploit this Celtics team. I see the Rockets as being similar to the Bucks (only better), in the sense that they have a host of accomplished offensive players (Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, etc.) and if the Celtics aren't on top of their game defensively, they could be in for a long night against Kevin McHale's club.
Forsberg: The Rockets are an above-average offensive team and the key for the Celtics to stopping them might be the pick-and-roll. Houston's ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll are averaging 0.869 points per play, which ranks third in the league, according to Synergy Sports data. And as Payne pointed out, this team is excellent at scoring off putbacks, so Boston has to be disciplined in its rotations while defending the pick-and-roll, as not to allow the Rockets to get easy tip-ins from bigs crashing. On the positive side for Boston, the Rockets have really struggled away from home, losing their last road game by 21 in Utah to start this recent three-game skid.
2. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has shortened his rotation to nine players. Like or dislike?
Payne: Like. I think it'll be crucial for the Celtics to have a more consistent rotation as we move closer towards the postseason. I also think it's pretty clear that the nine guys now making up the rotation are the ones who have shown the most in their allotted time this season, except for perhaps Keyon Dooling, due to injuries. Dooling, though, has a solid enough track record to stay in Rivers' good graces, despite missing so much time already. And it's not like Rivers doesn't have other options on his bench. He knows that guys like E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, and Sasha Pavlovic are capable of contributing solid minutes if need be. But it's always important to have that continuity established as the playoffs approach.
Forsberg: I like it, so long as Rivers is willing to loosen those rotations up a tiny bit at times (if nothing more to get the rookies some minutes). This schedule is brutal in the second half and, especially as it gets back-to-back heavy, Boston can't afford to lean too hard on its core guys if it wants them standing by the playoffs. The trouble is that every game is a big one for Boston (for instance, it's not like it can just look past Houston tonight with a trip to Philadelphia looming Wednesday) and the Celtics have proven they can rarely blow teams out (or at least hold big leads, which would afford Rivers the opportunity to lean on the rest of his bench). But with Boston in a must-win stretch coming out of the All-Star break, the shortening of the rotation made a ton of sense (and Rivers stressed that he's still committed to keeping Kevin Garnett's minutes low, which is key).
3. What's one key trend that has to continue for Boston to prolong this four-game winning streak?
Payne: Rajon Rondo needs to stay consistent. He's averaging a triple-double (15.6 points, 10.0 rebounds, 14.3 assists) over his last three games, helping to further hammer home the point that when he's on his game, the Celtics are a difficult team to beat. He doesn't need to average those kids of numbers for the rest of the season, but he does need to come through with a solid performance night after night. I think it's become clear that Rondo's the team's most valuable player, as he's arguably the one guy who's capable of completely dominating a game in several different ways (the Big Three still have some of this left in them, of course), and that could lead to some sizable success in the postseason, considering he still has a terrific supporting cast around him.
Forsberg: Yes, it's clear that we can dust off the old, "As goes Rondo, so go the Celtics," mantra after this little stretch. The Celtics don't need him to be otherworldly each night, but if he can avoid the lapses, this team will be hard to beat. Boston will also benefit if Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett continue to play like they have. Pierce's game on Sunday was vintage and they need his shot to continue to fall to thrive. Garnett, in shuffling to the center position, has been fantastic, his offensive output jumping in the time machine and going back a decade or so. There's a lot to be encouraged about with Boston's offense lately, and that's a good thing for this team.
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