Celtics-Nets preview: Keeping emotions in check

Celtics-Nets preview: Keeping emotions in check
January 26, 2014, 12:15 pm
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(USA Today Sports Images)

BOSTON — There will be wistful fans (and probably a Celtics player or two) as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett return to the TD Garden for the first time, but keeping those emotions from overflowing isn't the only thing players will be challenged by tonight.

Once the handshakes and hugs and video tributes have come and gone, there's still a game to be played. For Celtics coach Brad Stevens, that is ultimately what tonight's game has to ultimately be about.

"I expect it to be very emotional for a lot of people," Stevens said. "I don't know either of them personally, but just being a member of the organization you're thankful for what they did. And I know our players will honor them appropriately in their own way with texts or finding them out on the court or finding them after the game. The emotions will play a big role in that, but we still have a game to play. That's what we're going to prepare to do."

And when the video tribute begins, Stevens said they'll break out of their huddle quickly so that the players can "appropriately honor those guys."

And there once again, Stevens finds himself balancing the need to respect the body of work that Pierce and Garnett left behind, but at the same time keeping the team's focus on the game itself.

"Those guys first and foremost, achieved what they achieved because they are competitive guys," Stevens said. "They want to do well, too. We're going to have to be in that mindset, too."

Here are some other keys in tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Now that the Nets have gone with a smaller lineup, they try to find more one-on-one isolation matchups than ever. Boston will have to do a better job of switching defensively because unless the Celtics make a lineup change (which Stevens said was under consideration), Paul Pierce or Joe Johnson will likely get his number called a lot at the start of the game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jeff Green vs. Joe Johnson
This is a game where Green's defense has to be strong if the Celtics are to have a decent shot at winning. Johnson's scoring during the Nets recent stretch of strong play has been a major factor in their turn-around. In their last 10 games, he's averaging a team-best 17.6 points per game. As for Green, January has actually been his best month of the season. He's averaging a team-best 16.9 points along with 5.8 rebounds this month.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: It's not even close. All night long, all eyes will be on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. They deserve it. Not only for Banner 17 and the years of deep playoff runs, but also for the foundation that they helped create. Rajon Rondo described Pierce and Garnett as being "the blueprint . . . How to get it done, leading by example, just great role models." And that's why tonight's game is so special. It'll be the first chance that this organization, this fan base, these players can publicly thank them for all they did and the legacy they left behind.

STAT TO TRACK: The Celtics have made tremendous strides attacking the offensive glass this season. But they face a Brooklyn team that has won nine of its last 10 in part because it doesn't allow opponents too many second-chance scoring opportunities. In the last 10 games, Nets opponents are averaging a league-low 9.7 second-chance points. In that same period of time, Boston has the third-highest average with 16.3 second-chance points.