Oklahoma City at Boston
TV: ESPN, CSN
Boston: 107.7 points/100 possessions (7th) (HoopData.com)
Oklahoma City: 107.8 points/100 possessions (6th)
Boston: 98.8 points allowed/100 possessions (5th)
Oklahoma City: 108.3 points allowed/100 possessions (28th)
Thumbnail: Gotta love those NBA schedule-makers. No, I’m serious, actually. The Celtics are in vintage early-season form and the Thunder aren’t quite firing on all cylinders yet. No better time for the Celtics to go for the season sweep. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City will try to avenge that 92-83 loss to the Celtics a couple weeks ago and give Boston its first home loss of the season.
Probable Oklahoma City Starters: Russell Westbrook (PG), Thabo Sefolosha (SG), Kevin Durant (SF), Serge Ibaka (PF), Nenad Krstic (C)
***UPDATE: Kevin Durant (ankle) is unlikely to play tonight, according to a report from Darnell Mayberry. Durant suffered the sprain against the Rockets on Wednesday. Obviously, this changes things for the Celtics-Thunder match-up tonight. I would imagine that shooting guard James Harden would take Durant’s spot in the starting lineup, with Sefolosha moving to the 3. I liked the Celtics’ chances in this one even before hearing this Durant news. If he’s not able to go, I just don’t see where the Thunder possibly find enough scoring.
UPDATE 2: Kevin Durant will not play tonight
WHAT THE THUNDER DO WELL:
- Get to the line and make free throws. Only Miami gets to the line more frequently than Oklahoma City (Free Throw Rate: 39.4). It’s early, but the Thunder are shooting an astronomical 87.9% as a team (the all-time record for team free throw percentage is 83.2% by the Celtics in 1989-90). In particular, it’s the Thunder’s two best players that are excelling the most in this department. Both Durant and Westbrook are getting to the line about 9 times per game and shooting over 90%.
WHAT THE THUNDER DO POORLY:
- You mean besides draft perennial bench players like James Harden over dynamic sharp-shooters like Stephen Curry? Or is this just a given at this point? Because even though I’m not ready to completely close the book on Harden, I’m definitely on one of the final chapters. It’s generally not a good sign when you take a step back in your second season, which is what Harden has done. He’s averaging 7.2 points in 23.5 minutes, and he’s only shooting 31% from 3-point range which is essentially all he needs to do on this team (the Thunder are dead-last in 3-point shooting percentage at 26.5%). Curry would have been an incredible compliment to Westbrook in the backcourt, but I guess this franchise really can’t complain when it comes to draft picks not working out exactly as expected (see photo above).
- Pass the basketball. Despite Westbrook’s fantastic start to the season, the Thunder do not pass the ball very effectively as a team. They rank 29th in Assist Rate at 16.07%, and 30th in Percentage of Field Goals Assisted On at 47.74%. By contrast, the Celtics lead the league in both categories (26.31 and 67.72, respectively).
PLAYERS WHO MAKE ME WORRY:
Durant and Westbrook: Hayes wrote a great piece about the +/- statistic the other day. Regardless of whether you really buy into it or not, it can’t be a complete coincidence that Westbrook has been a “+” in all seven Thunder victories, and a “-” in their four losses. I understand the whole let-the-opposing-team’s-best-players-get-their-points-and-just-don’t-let-the-role-players-beat-you mentality, but I couldn’t disagree more with this approach against the Thunder. The Thunder go as these guys go. That’s not to say Durant and Westbrook still won’t combine for 55 points, but how hard will the Celtics make them work for it? Defense needs to be the priority for Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce tonight.
PLAYERS WHO DON’T MAKE ME WORRY:
Ibaka and Krstic: At the very least, you know these guys aren’t going to pull a Chris Bosh and just want to “chill” all night, but talent only takes you so far. Rondo-Allen-Pierce is more or less a wash against Westbrook-Sefolosha-Durant, but the Celtics big advantage will be inside tonight. Ibaka has started the past five games in place of an injured Jeff Green (ankle sprain) and has actually played well this season, averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds. But KG held him to 8 points on 4-11 shooting last game, and I would expect something similar tonight. Green is listed as day-to-day, but I wouldn’t expect OKC to rush him back against the Celtics. He’s exactly the type of under-sized power forward that Garnett typically dominates with his length and positioning.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE FROM THE CELTICS TONIGHT:
In all honesty I was half-expecting Shaq to Tweet something from the Harry Potter premiere at like 2:30am last night. But as far as I can tell, it looks like we’re in the clear. Hopefully he’s feeling rested and can go put up a 15-8 against Krstic like we all know he can. The key will be getting Shaq involved right away, because his good offensive nights this year have come in games when he gets early looks.
PREDICTION: Celtics 103, Thunder 99. Durant comes out firing and it’s the Celtics that come back from a double-digit 3rd quarter deficit.
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