Nick Collison and Paul Pierce attended the University of Kansas
Kevin Durant and Avery Bradley attended the University of Texas
DeAndre Liggins, Daniel Orton and Rajon Rondo all attended the University of Kentucky
Jeff Green played for the Thunder from 2007-11
Courtney Lee and Hasheem Thabeet were teammates in Houston from 2010-12
Chris Wilcox was teammates with Nick Collison in Seattle and Oklahoma City from 2005-09
Wilcox and Kevin Durant were teammates from 2007-09
Kendrick Perkins played for the Celtics from 2003-11 and was a member of the 2008 NBA Championship team (and I still miss him)
Kevin Martin and Courtney Lee were teammates in Houston from 2010-12.
Avery Bradley vs Russell Westbrook
Avery will have perhaps his biggest challenge yet as he gets the job of trying to slow down Russell Westbrook. Russ has been playing very well and when he's on his game, it's very tough to stop him as he is a threat to hit the outside shot as well as to make a strong drive to the hoop.
Paul Pierce vs Kevin Durant
The only thing tougher than trying to stop Russell Westbrook will be trying to stop Kevin Durant. KD is making a case for being the best player in the NBA and Pierce will have his hands full trying to guard him. Durant is also a good defender so this may be a tough game for Pierce all the way around. Jeff Green may be the best option to try to slow down his former teammate.
Kevin Garnett vs Kendrick Perkins
Perk will always be a Celtic. But he's also one of the more competitive players in the league. As much as he loves his former teammates, and Kevin Garnett in particular, they will be the enemy while he is on the court and expect him to be his snarly best in this game. Along with KG vs Perk, Brandon Bass will have his hands full trying to stay with Serge Ibaka.
Jeff Green makes his return to OKC for the first time since he was traded for Kendrick Perkins. Just as Perk was a fan favorite in Boston, Jeff Green was a fan favorite in OKC and I expect him to get a warm welcome from the fans there. Green has been a big part of Boston's resurgence since Rondo went down and is averaging 14.7 points on 50.5 percent shooting during the 14-4 stretch since Rondo's injury.
This is the second and final time the Celtics will face the Thunder in the regular season. They won the first meeting 108-100 in Boston before Rondo and Sully went down. In that game, Pierce had 27 points and Green added 17 in his first-ever game against his former team.
Every game from here on in could change the playoff seedings in both conferences. The Thunder are in 2nd place in the West, 1.5 games behind the Spurs and 3 games in front of the Clippers, who are in 3rd. The Celtics have moved up to 6th in the East, half a game behind the Bulls and 1.5 games behind the Nets. They are tied with the Hawks but since they lead the series, they get the 6th seed while Atlanta has slipped to the 7th seed. The Celtics are 3 games ahead of the Bucks, who are in the 8th spot.
Both teams are 7-3 in their last 10 games. Both bring win streaks into this game with the Celtics win streak at 5 while the Thunder have won 4 in a row. Chesapeake Energy Arena is one of the toughest places to play. Their crowd is always raucous and their team feeds off of their energy.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense has got to be the Celtics #1 priority. The Thunder are 2nd in the league in 3 point percentage at 39.2%. They are 3rd in FG% at 48.4%. And, they top the league in points scored per game at 107. The Celtics must defend the 3 point line as well as keep them out of the paint where they also do a lot of damage. The "manwich" defense might be good to use against this team for stretches.
Rebound the Ball - The Celtics have to crash the boards in order to prevent second chance points and fast break opportunities for the Thunder. When they get a defensive rebound, they are off to the races and will make you pay with a fast break basket. With their size, they will also make you pay with put backs and second chance baskets if you give them offensive rebounds. If you give the Thunder a second chance, they don't often miss twice. The Celtics have to put out more effort on the boards as a team if they want to win.
Bench Play - The Celtics bench is going to be key in this game. They have been playing very well, outscoring the Hawks 46-8, the Pacers 29-16, and the Sixers 41-22. If the Thunder have any flaws at all, it is their bench scoring. Needless to say, they lose a lot when their starters go to the bench. Defense on Kevin Martin, the Thunder's main weapon off the bench, will be crucial.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be more aggressive. They have to go to the hoop and not settle for jumpers. They need to get to the basket more and be more aggressive on defense to keep their opponents from scoring in the paint. They can't be passive and expect to win the game, especially against an aggressive team like the Thunder.
Players to Watch
Simply because I still love Perk.
This is Jeff's first time facing his former team. Sometimes players try too hard against their old team and it backfires and sometimes they shine, wanting to show what they are missing by trading them. Hopefully, for Jeff it will be the latter. I expect him to get a warm welcome from the fans but after that, it's business.
On the Road Again
The Celtics haven't played all that well on the road, although they've played better there recently, winning both games on their last mini road trip and winning 2 out of 5 on their West Coast trip. They need to come out focused and not allow the crowd (or the refs) to take them out of their game.