Celtics (4-4, 1-1 road) vs. Thunder (6-3, 4-1 home)
TV: FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 6:00 PM CST
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 111.5 (2nd), Celtics – 102.3 (18th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.8 (13th), Celtics – 97.9 (4th)
About two minutes into the Philadelphia game, the bad memories from last season started to bubble up again. Not because the 76ers came out as their pesky selves once again in the first quarter. But because Russell Westbrook took a foul line jumper and came up limping after TJ McConnell stepped on his foot. Luckily, he shook it off and went on to record his second consecutive triple-double, a pedestrian 21 point, 17 rebound, 11 assist effort. It was one of those triple-doubles where you go stat checking on your phone in the middle of the third quarter and realize Westbrook has 8/9/6. The Sixers were once again their bothersome selves, leading by 6 after the first quarter and pulling within one halfway through the third quarter. The Thunder eventually shut the door on Philly, but it wasn’t for lack of effort from the young 76ers squad.
This is the first meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Boston Celtics. The Thunder swept the season series last year, winning the first meeting on the road, without the help of Kevin Durant, Perry Jones, and Westbrook. If you remember that game, Anthony Morrow led the Thunder with 28 points and Lance Thomas had 13 rebounds. The Celtics, which made the playoffs and gave Cleveland fits in their first round match-up, lost that game by 15 points. This might be hyperbole, but in hindsight, that might have been the Thunder’s most impressive win last season.
The Celtics come into this game with a 4-4 record. They are probably a bit better than their record suggests, but injuries and a lack of chemistry have played a role in Boston currently having a .500 record. Avery Bradley has been bothered by a strained calf and has missed the last two games. Marcus Smart has missed 3 games because of a bad toe. David Lee and Amir Johnson are new additions to the front court and are still getting acclimated to their roles with their new team. With all that said, though, this team is one of the best defensive teams in the league and feature on of the best young coaches in the game in Brad Stevens.
They are 4th in defensive rating, allow only 97.4 points per game, and are top 10 in most defensive categories. When healthy, the Celtics’ strength is definitely in its backcourt. Bradley is a premier 3 and D guy, Smart is a bulldog defensively and provides enough action offensively to warrant the other team’s attention, and Isaiah Thomas is probably their best offensive player. Jae Crowder is a jack of all trades at the SF position. Up front, the Celtics are undersized, but extremely active and versatile. Amir Johnson and Jared Sullinger do a good job of spreading the floor on the offensive end and but struggle in getting rebounds. The Celtics utilize their depth, usually going about 11-12 strong into a game. Kelly Olynyk, David Lee, Jonas Jerebko, and Evan Turner take up the bulk of the reserve minutes.3 Big Things
1. Small Ball
The Celtics like to stretch the floor with their bigs and give players like Thomas and Smart room to get into the teeth of the defense and cause havoc from there. Their bigs aren’t extremely mobile, but serve more as decoys to keep the opponent’s bigs out of the lane. With Durant being down, the effectiveness of the Thunder small ball line-up becomes extremely muted. It’ll be interesting to see if Donovan sticks with the normal two big line-up or whether he plays a smaller line-up throughout the game. If you remember in the Houston game, the Rockets featured three guards much of the game. It was a line-up that began to flummox the Thunder in the 2nd half when they eventually lost their lead and couldn’t catch back up.
Aside from scoring, one of the biggest weaknesses for the Celtics is their inability to grab rebounds. They average only 31.9 rebounds per game, which is 28th in the league. The Thunder, on the other hand, grab 50.8 boards per game. If the Thunder stay big, players like Enes Kanter and Steven Adams may feast on offensive rebounds throughout the evening.
Sometimes, things happen in the world that bring into focus what is important. We, Oklahomans, have seen it first hand, both by the hand of man and by the hand of nature. The events that unfolded in Paris two days ago are still fresh on the minds of many in the sports world. The NBA has many players from France that have been affected by this tragedy. It’s a shame the world doesn’t work the way sports work. On any given night in sports, you can see people of every race, religion, color, and creed compete for one common goal. If only the world worked in that way.