AP Photo/Stephan Savoia
Paul Pierce and the Celtics return home for another matchup vs. the Wizards.The Boston Celtics return to the TD Garden Monday night to wrap up a holiday home-and-home against the Washington Wizards (7:30 p.m., CSN). Let's roll out the latest edition of 3-on-3, previewing Monday's tilt with the help of ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb:
1. What's your biggest takeaway from Boston's win on Sunday?
Payne: The Rondo-KG dynamic. It might seem like an obvious observation, but there's no denying that Rajon Rondo made Kevin Garnett's job a heck of a lot easier through his penetration and slick passes around the rim. Granted, the Wizards aren't exactly an elite NBA defensive team, but with KG not being the same athlete he was in years past, Rondo making things easier for him offensively will go a long way towards him having a productive season on that end of the court.
Robb: Rondo's effort. His performance was vintage last night and makes you wonder how Danny Ainge even considered trading the guy. The Celtics need more of this while Paul Pierce works himself into game shape, but the C's All-Star point guard asserted his will in all facets of the game against Washington. If he can continue to bring some semblance of consistency, at least against inferior defenses like the Wizards, the entire roster will reap the benefits.
Forsberg: You boys covered Rondo and KG, so I'll be Debbie Downer: Why can't this team just stomp on an opponent's throat? After starting the season with three consecutive losses, it's hard to gripe when they don't blow out their foes in victory, but let's face it, the Pistons and Wizards are pretty terrible teams at the moment and there's no reason Boston shouldn't have won by 20 points both nights. The inability to put an opponent away will have two long-term affects: More minutes and expended energy by veterans (even though the starters didn't exactly play a ton last night) and less minutes and opportunities for younger players. The Celtics are not doing themselves any favors by making each game a grind (not when rivals like Chicago and Miami are both wining games by 40 points on the same night).
2. What can we expect from the Celtics tonight?
Payne: I'd like to say the Celtics will come out and wallop the Wizards all over again, but I can't say that with complete confidence. Although, compared to their back-to-back with Miami and New Orleans last week, I'm more confident that the Celtics will come out with a greater sense of urgency and build another solid lead early. Similar to last night, I think KG's production will depend largely on how involved he is with Rondo, and I'm looking for Paul Pierce to help drive things offensively to a greater degree than he did last night. The good news: Garnett and Pierce both played under 30 minutes last night, which should leave them a bit fresher for tonight's bout.
Robb: Another comfortable win. Coach Doc Rivers has do a wonderful job managing minutes of this weekend stretch. No one played over 35 minutes last night or over 30 in Friday's blowout win, so I expect the starters to bring energy and benefit from the boost provided by the hometown crowd. The Wizards had an extremely poor shooting night Sunday, and will be hungry for their first win of the season, but the C's will be plenty motivated themselves to get back to the .500 barrier. Look for another strong effort on both ends from Boston.
Forsberg: Here's the litmus test: Can the Celtics come out on the second night of a back-to-back after two (somewhat) breezy victories and beat a bad opponent. That New Orleans game last week had disaster written all over it. This one? Not so much. But if Boston struggles, then you really have to start worrying about the team's ability to contend on the back ends of consecutive games. Fortunately, the Wizards show no signs of being mentally tough enough to bounce back on their own, and the Celtics should win this one with relative ease.
3. Will the Celtics take advantage of a home-heavy January slate?
Payne: They have to, plain and simple. These next few weeks will be crucial to the Celtics' record, and, potentially, playoff positioning. The C's will still be a solid road team this season, but, given the shortened season, they're looking at a more hectic road schedule than they've seen in past years, which puts extra pressure on them to take care of things at home. With that said, it won't be an easy month at the Garden, with teams like Dallas, Oklahoma City, Chicago, and Orlando all making appearances. Fortunately, the four-day break between games that's rapidly approaching (Jan. 7-10) will grant them plenty of practice time to better refine things like the team's defensive principles.
Robb: Yes. With a jam-packed schedule this season, taking care of business on the home court becomes more important than ever for Rivers and Co. The C's will also get the added benefits of multiple offdays (and practice days) during the month of January, which should continue to help the new faces get acclimated with Doc's system. Taking both of these factors into account, I expect the C's to wrap up the month well above the .500 threshold, perhaps positioning themselves better for strategic rest down the stretch, by helping to secure themselves a strong playoff spot early in the year.
Forsberg: Man, y'all are overflowing with optimism in 2012. You're making me seem like a grump. Listen, the schedule in March and April is daunting. The Celtics really do have to take advantage of what January offers (in fact, straight through to the All-Star break as Boston plays 19 of its 32 first-half games at the Garden). My concern is there's some tough games here. Indiana (twice; once at home), Dallas, Chicago, and Oklahoma City is an intimidating stretch from Jan. 6-16 (though the break after the first Indy meeting in Boston will help). With 11 home games this month, if I gave you 7-4 would you take it? I'd jump on it. It's going to be a grind in early January, but things loosen up later in the month.