In the final match-up of their four-game home stand, the Dallas Mavericks will face the hottest team in the NBA when the Boston Celtics visit the American Airlines Center.
Prior to Saturday night’s game, Dallas had lost three consecutive games. But, against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Mavericks set a franchise record for most 3-pointer’s in a regular-season game with 19, en route to a shockingly dominant 111-79 win.
After dropping their first two games of the season, the Celtics have won 15 consecutive games, including a 92-88 regular-season classic against the Golden State Warriors last Thursday night in Boston. And even with prized free-agent acquisition Gordon Hayward out for the year with a broken leg, head coach Brad Stevens has this team poised to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
Here are three things to watch in tonight’s game:
Kyrie the Alpha
According to reports, the extremely talented point guard had wanted to get out of LeBron James’ shadow in Cleveland for a while. In a stunning move, the Cavaliers shipped Irving to their greatest challenger for Eastern Conference supremacy. To this point, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge seems to have gotten the better end of another trade.
Since his arrival in Boston, Irving has proved naysayers wrong by embracing everything about his new city, coach and team. When skilled wing-man Gordon Hayward was lost for the season to injury, the former No. 1 overall pick filled the void.
Off the court, Irving became the leader to one of the league’s youngest locker rooms. On the court, he leads the team in scoring with 21 points a game. In a win over the Warriors last week, Irving scored seven of Boston’s final nine points.
Danny Ainge wins again
Trader Danny lived up to his nickname again this off-season, when he swapped the rights to the No. 1 overall pick for the rights to the third overall pick and future draft picks with the Philadelphia 76ers prior to 2017 NBA Draft. Many experts thought Ainge had passed on a can’t-miss prospect in University of Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, and questioned his selection of forward Jayson Tatum out of Duke at No. 3 overall.
It’s very, very early, but there’s a reason the Celtics’ general manager has held onto his job since the early 2000s. Those same experts now believe Tatum should have been the first overall pick thanks to his precocious start.
Tatum’s strong performance has coincided with the rapid development of second-year forward Jaylen Brown. Like Tatum, Brown was drafted third overall, and his selection was also heavily scrutinized by pundits. But in his sophomore campaign, the 21-year-old Brown is averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds a game, while playing more than 30 minutes a night.
Renewed focus on defense
The last time the Celtics won an NBA title, they did it with a tenacious defense. This current Celtics team seems poised to try and replicate that blueprint. Boston has surrendered the fewest points, lowest opposing field goal percentage and second fewest field goals made per game in the league.
One of the key’s to their defensive success is the versatility and length of their defenders. The front court includes Al Horford, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes, all of whom are 6-foot-9 or taller and can defend multiple positions. While Irving isn’t known as a stout defender, both Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier have complemented the team’s starting point guard perfectly coming off of the bench.
The Celtics’ defense was on full display in their victory over the Warriors. Twice, Boston erased double-digit deficits because they committed to defending the entire floor. By the end of the night, reigning league most valuable player Stephen Curry and All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson combined to hit eight of their 32 shots from the field for a combined total of 22 points