The Celtics are home for one game after going 1-1 on a road trip and just before beginning a 4 game Western road trip. This is the second and final game between these two teams. The Celtics won the first game in OKC 103-94 in Oklahoma City. The Celtics came from 18 down to win in Marcus Morris’ first game with the Celtics. The Thunder have won 11 of the last 14 games vs the Celtics.
The Celtics are still 2nd in the East. They are 5 games behind the Raptors for first place and 6 games ahead of the Cavaliers who are in 3rd place. The Celtics are 6-4 in their last 10 games and are coming off a blowout loss to the Pelicans. They are 23-13 at home and their record against Western Conference teams is 17-8.
The Thunder are in 4th place in the West. They are 2 games behind Portland, who are in 3rd place (and the Celtics next opponent) and they are 2 ahead of Utah, who are 5th in the West. The Thunder have won 6 straight games and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 18-18 on the road and 18-9 vs Eastern Conference teams.
The Celtics are still short handed. Kyrie Irving will miss his 4th straight game with soreness in his knee. Brad Stevens has said that he won’t play until he is 100% and he isn’t quite there yet. Jaylen Brown is also getting closer to returning from the concussion but also is not quite there yet. Marcus Smart (thumb), Daniel Theis (knee) and Gordon Hayward (ankle) are also out. The Thunder have just Andre Roberson (knee) on the injured list.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Terry Rozier
SG: Jayson Tatum
SF: Marcus Morris
PF: Al Horford
C: Aron Baynes
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Marcus Smart (thumb) out
Jaylen Brown (concussion) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Two Way Players
Probable Thunder Starters
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Corey Brewer
SF: Paul George
PF: Carmelo Anthony
C: Steven Adams
Andre Roberson (knee) out
Terry Rozier vs Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is the reigning league MVP and is averaging 25.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 10.2 assists. This is a big test for the Celtics and is on National TV and so it would be a good time for Terry Rozier to have a big game on both ends of the court.
Marcus Morris vs Paul George
George is averaging 21.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Morris will need to play play solid defense both in the paint and on the perimeter because George is a threat both inside and out. The Celtics will also need Morris to produce on the offensive end to keep PG13 working on that end as well.
Al Horford vs Carmelo Anthony
Anthony is averaging 16.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists. Al needs to work on defense because Anthony is a tough assignment. Hopefully he will be up to the task. But with both Kyrie and Jaylen out again, the Celtics will need Al to score as well.
Keys to the Game
Rebound - The Celtics have turned their fortunes around on the boards by group rebounding. They are 8th in the league with 44.5 rebounds per game. The Thunder are 5th in the league with 44.8 rebounds per game. They are also first in 2nd chance points. The Celtics will need to continue their effort and hustle on the boards in this game. Much of rebounding is effort and desire and the Celtics will need both to out-rebound the Thunder in this one.
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics will need to defend the perimeter as well as the inside because the Thunder have players who can score both inside and out. The Celtics are first with a defensive rating of 101.3 while the Thunder are no slouches with a defensive rating of 104.5 (10th). Especially since they are still short handed, the Celtics must continue to make defense their priority if they want to win this game.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be aggressive and fight for loose balls, 50/50 balls, and rebounds, and be aggressive on defense and in going to the hoop. They have to be the more aggressive team and the one that wants it more. They simply have to play harder, especially since they are short handed.
Take Care of the Ball - The Thunder are first in steals with 9.0 per game and also first in forcing points off turnovers with 18.8 per game. The Celtics have to keep the ball moving and avoid playing hero ball but they also have to make crisp passes and focus on avoiding turnovers and deflections by the Thunder’s quick hands.
Back Home - The Celtics are playing back at home in between 2 and 4 game road trips. Coming back home after a trip is always a tough game. They need to draw energy from the home crowd and play with energy and focus. They have to protect home court before they head West for another 4 games.
Injuries - The Thunder are almost at full strength with just one player out. They are playing their best ball of the season. The Celtics are still missing 5 players, including 2 of their best scorers and their best defender. The remaining healthy players have to step up their game and play very hard. They need to be the next man up and fill in for their injured teammates. Hopefully the Thunder will underestimate the Celtics since they have so many players out and the Celtics can steal a win.