NBA

NBA Game of the Week: Celtics and Suns clash could be possible Finals preview

By Sports Desk December 06, 2022

The best of the East against the best of the West.

No, this is not the NBA Finals yet, though it very well could be at the end of the season as the Boston Celtics head to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.

The Celtics have responded to losing last year's Finals to the Golden State Warriors in impressive fashion, made all the more notable given the situation around suspended head coach Ime Udoka.

With star performers Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown firing on all cylinders, the Celtics have raced out to win 20 of their first 25 (80.0 win percentage) games this season, topping the Eastern Conference by some distance (ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks with 73.9 per cent).

It has been quite the run since early November, with Boston on a record of 16-2 since their overtime defeat to the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

The Suns arguably had an even more anti-climactic end to their last campaign.

Phoenix ended the regular season with a fantastic record of 64-18, comfortably the best in the league, but were eliminated in the Western Conference semi-finals against the Dallas Mavericks, losing 4-3.

Like the Celtics, though, the Suns have mostly picked up where they left off this year, sitting on a record of 16-8 to narrowly top the West.

Monty Williams will be hoping his team can get back to their best after losing two of their last three games, with their last outing seeing them haunted by Luka Doncic and the Mavs again, but on Wednesday all they will have to deal with is the form team in the league, including Tatum and Brown.

Perhaps that defeat in Dallas will focus minds, but the Celtics will be looking to further cement their credentials.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Phoenix Suns - Deandre Ayton

Devin Booker may be the main point-getter for the Suns, recently scoring a total of 136 points across three games, but Deandre Ayton's importance in the big games can never be underestimated.

The Bahamian is actually slightly down on his usual rebound average, but his 9.6 per game is still comfortably the best on the Phoenix roster and will be crucial against a team as potent as Boston.

Booker struggled last time out against the Mavs, while Ayton top-scored for his team with 20 points, along with eight rebounds and three blocks.

Boston Celtics - Jayson Tatum

Tatum has been an absolute force of nature so far this season, averaging 30.8 points per game from his 24 appearances, the fourth-best in the league behind only Doncic (33.4), Giannis Antetokounmpo (31.9) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (31.3).

The 24-year-old has scored 29 or more points in six of his last seven games, while also averaging the most rebounds (8.3) and assists (4.2) for his team this season.

KEY BATTLE - Suns must halt the points at the source

If it were as easy as stopping the opposition from shooting, you would have basketball sussed.

That is basically what Williams' must encourage his team to try though, with only one team having a better field-goal percentage than the Celtics' 49.4 this season (Denver Nuggets, 50.0 per cent).

Perhaps more concerning will be from range, with Boston boasting the best three-point success so far, sinking 40.2 per cent of their attempts from beyond the arc. Either prevent shots or at the very least, do not allow the likes of Tatum and Brown to shoot the ball without pressure.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

This has been a tremendously even battle in recent seasons, with Boston and Phoenix clashing twice in each of the last four campaigns.

In every single season, they have both won one each, with the Celtics winning their last meeting at TD Garden 123-108 on December 31 last year.

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