Three things to look for as the Celtics face the Kings

Mar 21, 2023 - 10:05 PM
NBA: Sacramento Kings at <a href=Boston Celtics" src="" />
Marcus Smarts defends as Domantas Sabonis shoots. | Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Those who follow the NBA religiously are well aware that excitement in Sacramento is the highest its been since the Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, Peja Stojaković, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac days in the early 2000s.

In addition to being an excellent team to play with on NBA Live 2004, those Kings also had a distinct swagger about them.

For those who follow the NBA casually – and start watching more closely in the spring every year – believe it or not, the 2022-23 Kings have many of those same qualities.

Sacramento is 43-28, has won seven of 10 and finds itself in third place in a loaded Western Conference. The Celtics, meanwhile, are 49-23 and sit in second place in the East, but they’ve won just five of 10. They’ll meet Tuesday night at 10 p.m. EST.

The Celtics are still the best team in the NBA when they play to their potential, but that’s been happening less and less in recent weeks. Can they piece together a strong showing in a tough environment and pull out a key road win?

Many fans won’t learn the result until the morning, but regardless, here are three things to look for in a big game for both teams.

There are major seeding implications

It’s almost playoff time, folks. The Celtics only have 10 more regular-season games, and every game matters at the moment.

Boston sits a half game above Philadelphia. The 76ers have won eight of 10 and are consistently gaining on the Celtics. The Celtics hold the tiebreaker, which could come in handy, but this is a big game as they try to stay in the No. 2 spot.

Interestingly, each of the NBA’s last two champions have entered the playoffs as the 3-seed. Before that, it hadn’t happened since 2011, when the Mavericks pieced together a magical run.

A hypothetical path of Miami, Philadelphia and Milwaukee to get to the Finals is hard enough. The Celtics can’t afford to hurt their chances even more by letting this skid linger. That starts Tuesday night.

They’ll have some help from a familiar source

Celtics fans can breathe a little more easily knowing that Robert Williams is back in the lineup.

This will provide a glimpse into how he looks following a hamstring injury that kept him out eight games. While seeding is important, health is even more important, so it would be wise for head coach Joe Mazzulla to play Williams, say, 15-20 minutes, until he absolutely has to play more.

Keeping him fresh and minimizing the chances he gets hurt are both necessary.

Blake Griffin has played more in Williams’ absence, so it will be interesting to see how his role changes, if at all, with Williams back. Of course there’s Grant Williams, too, who has had an eventful few weeks (to say the least). How will Rob’s return affect Grant’s minutes, if at all?

The Kings have plenty of playmakers

In the first meeting between the teams – a 122-104 win for Boston back in late November, – the Celtics held the Kings to 41.4 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range.

Rookie Keegan Murray was 1-for-8 and scored just three points. De’Aaron Fox shot 6-for-17, Sacramento turned it over 18 times and no Kings starters finished with a positive plus-minus.

This team has improved significantly over the course of the season, and it wouldn’t be wise to assume they’ll shoot and play as poorly.

Fox (25.9 points per game) is a tough matchup for the Celtics (or anyone, for that matter), largely because of his supreme speed. Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon can oftentimes collectively wear guards down, but shifty, attack-minded players such as Donovan Mitchell and Fox have the potential to give them fits.

Domantas Sabonis (19.1 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 7.2 APG) is also a tough matchup. He’s firmly established himself as one of the most versatile players in the league.

Do the Celtics put Jayson Tatum on him? Al Horford? Grant Williams? There isn't really an obvious choice. Don’t be surprised if Sabonis has his way.

Murray, who scored 22 points Monday night, is starting hit his stride. If the Celtics place extra emphasis on trying to stop Fox and Sabonis, he could benefit.

The Celtics are going to have to earn this one. If they do, it could be one of their better wins in recent memory and help them regain their mojo.

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!