This is an intriguing matchup between two teams in very different situations. The Celtics are a lock to make the playoffs and are looking to get right before they start. The Blazers meanwhile are fighting for their playoff lives as the two teams face off on Sunday.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Boston Celtics
Sunday, August 2, 2020 – 3:30 PM EDT at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee
Blazers Off to Perfect Start
The Portland Trail Blazers got off to the perfect start by beating the Memphis Grizzlies. Portland is chasing Memphis for that final playoff spot and only need to finish within four games of their Western Conference rivals. They now sit 2.5 games back of the Grizzlies as the head into their matchup on Sunday against the Celtics (3:30 PM EDT on ESPN). Obviously Portland will be looking to keep the momentum going and have a very good chance of doing that against a much smaller Celtics lineup.
Starting center Jusuf Nurkic looks like he has completely recovered from his gruesome leg injury. He looked good in the scrimmages but his performance against Memphis was very impressive. Nurkic put up 18 points, 9 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 5 assists in a game that he dominated on both ends. Add Zach Collins and Hassan Whiteside to the mix and Portland has something that the Celtics desperately need and that's size. This will be an interesting matchup because of the contrast in styles but make no mistake, the Celtics are not the Grizzlies and Portland knows they'll need to be better to beat a Boston team coming off a loss.
Celtics Looking to Get On Track
Boston lost to Milwaukee but the game was up for grabs and a crucial call with 1:28 to play ended up deciding the game. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo got called for a charge on the play in question until the decision was overturned after a review. Instead, Marcus Smart was called for a blocking foul that sent Giannis to the line and the layup that he made of course counted. That made the score 120-117 at that point and the Celtics never got closer than three points, eventually falling 119-112. They will be looking to get back on track against Portland and it will be interesting to see what lineup combinations they use to counteract their obvious size disadvantage.
I think the Celtics have the personnel to do it and head coach Brad Stevens is one of the best game planners in the league. In order for Boston to turn things around, they will need their star Jayson Tatum to bounce back from a horrendous game against the Bucks. Tatum shot 2-18 and the fact that Boston was able to keep it close until the end despite that performance shows the strength and depth that the Celtics have. There's no way that Tatum plays like that again and if you look at the Blazers roster, they don't really have anyone that matches up well with Tatum. I would expect the Celtics to look to take advantage of that and don't be surprised if we see some very small lineups.
Whoever Controls the Pace Will Win
The Celtics do not want to get into a half court game with Portland. On top of the obvious size disadvantage, the Blazers perimeter scorers thrive in half court situations. Carmelo Anthony played well against Memphis but he does not want to get involved in an up and down game. Melo was never a great defender and at this point of his career, he will have a hard time keeping up with Brown and Tatum. I lean Celtics in this one because not only are they the better team, I feel like they can give the Blazers a lot of different looks that might have trouble defending. Speaking of defending, that is the clincher for me. The Celtics defend and Blazers do not. Boston is ranked fourth in the league in defense while Portland is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum where they rank 27th on defense. I lean Celtics moneyline in this NBA pick.