Time: 7:00 PM EST Friday, November 19th 2010
Place: TD Garden
Officials: Joe Crawford, Pat Fraher, Mark Lindsay
TV: ESPN, CSNNE, FSOK Radio: WEEI, ESPN
The Line: The Celtics have already beaten the Thunder
once this season, and since then OKC is 4-1, Boston
has gone 3-1. Boston is 5-0 at home, but OKC is 3-1
on the road.
Coming into the season the Oklahoma City Thunder were riding quite a wave. They had taken the Los Angeles Lakers to 7 games in the first round of last year's playoffs, Kevin Durant had just won the scoring title at age 21, and 'Durantula' had just been featured as the best player on USA's FIBA World Championship winning team this summer. Big things were expected of the Thunder this season.
However, as of right now, they're amounting to little more than "also-rans". Their biggest victory has been against the Utah Jazz, but they dropped one to the Jazz too so far this season. Their average scoring margin over the last 11 games is -1.4 points, and that's against a schedule that isn't particularly difficult. This is somewhat shocking, because as of right now the Thunder's two best players, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, are playing extremely well, especially in Westbrook's case.
Tonight Oklahoma will get back their best interior help defender, Nick Collsion (led the league in charges last year). Collison lacks the athleticism of Jeff Green or Serge Ibaka, and the size of a Nenad Krstic, but Collison has a savvy, toughness, and skill on the defensive end that nobody else on his team possesses. \
Boston meanwhile, will again be without interior defenders Kendrick Perkins and Jermaine O'Neal, and will as such be relying heavily on Shaquille O'Neal, Glen Davis, and Semih Erden to provide solid interior play for them. So far this season, that has been enough, but Oklahoma is scrappy and athletic, on top of being extremely talented. It wil be a pretty significant test of the New Celtics of 2010, that is the Shaquille O'Neal incarnation of these Celtics. Jermaine O'Neal might not be a spring chicken, but he's pretty mobile for a center even in today's hyper-athletic NBA. Shaq has all the mass you would want in a small planet, let alone a center, but in this game that might be a big difference maker.
Oklahoma should come out with a large chip on its shoulder, as beating the Celtics tonight would go a long ways towards silencing any "they haven't beat anyone" criticisms. Boston, however, is 5-0 at home and at home margin of victory of +10.2 points, the Celtics look like they're a completely different force at the Garden this season than they were last.
Probable Starting Line-ups
Injuries And Stuff: Kendrick Perkins (SPACEMAN), Jermaine O'Neal (OUT)
Oklahoma City Thunder
Injuries And Stuff: Jeff Green (DTD, but out tonight)
Match-up Of The Night: Russell Westbrook V Rajon Rondo
Kevin Durant and Paul Pierce are the logical match-up of the evening, but you learn to take some things for granted with these guys. Kevin Durant is averaging over 35 ppg over the last 5 games against Boston. He's going to score, and we're not going to be able to stop him. Last spring, Durant shot 15 free throws in a single game against Boston, a game in which the entire Boston team totaled 17 free throw attempts. He's going to score.
The bigger difference is going to be Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo. In the last 5 games Russell Westbrook is averaging 26 points, 9 assists, and 4 rebounds. In games where Russell Westbrook has scored over 20 points, the Thunder are 6-1, while in games where Westbrook has scored less than 20 points the Thunder are 1-3. If Rondo can limit Westbrook as a scorer, Oklahoma City doesn't have the firepower after Durant to compensate for that. With Jeff Green supposedly out tonight, Oklahoma doesn't have a consistent scorer outside of Durant and Westbrook. If Rondo and more importantly KG/Shaq can keep Westbrook from lighting it up, the Celtics ought to pull away.
Three Keys For The Good Guys:
1) Bench Mob In Da House!!!- The last time these two teams met, Boston's bench out-scored OKC's at a clip of 33 to 12. Of the players suiting up tonight, Boston's reserves score an average of 42 points per game, while Oklahoma's average only 25. With Shaq's mobility/conditioning issues, the frontcourt will be huge tonight, and they ought to do well. The biggest speedbump comes in the form of Nick Collison, who was without questions OKC's most valuable reserve last year. He wasn't there the first game, but if Collison can establish a defensive presence in the Thunder's second unit, Boston could have problems.
2) Kevin Garnett Needs To Show Up- Only once so far this season has Kevin Garnett managed to get less than both 10 points and 10 rebounds in a single game. It was against the Thunder. He was able to get away with it though, because the bench shot over 56% from the field on over 20 attempts, coupled with a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line, while also limiting OKC's reserves to a faction of the combined production. THat cannot happen again; both Big Baby and Semih Erden will have their hands full this game with Nick Collison on the second unit, so KG needs to take advantage of the fact that allegedly Serge Ibaka has only been playing organized basketball since this morning.
3) Shaq and Paul need to show them "The Big Ugly Truth"- Oklahoma City is pretty thin up front. Usually they have one of the deeper 4 man rotations, but tonight they only have Nenad Krstic, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collsion. If only one of those guys gets into foul trouble, it means that OKC's options are suddenly severely limited. If Ibaka goes down especially, they open themselves up to Boston's more athletic finishers and more polished post players. That all starts with Shaq and Paul. I don't care what % of free throws Shaq makes, if he gets the ball down low, he's got about a 60-70% chance of being fouled on all shot attempts. If Paul wants to stop shooting midrange shots and 3pt attempts, he's still one of the league's best at getting to the charity stripe. Boston would go a long ways towards getting a W tonight if they can get into the penalty early, and get one of OKC's bigs into foul trouble.