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Preview: Boston Celtics at Oklahoma City Thunder Game #52

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The Celtics begin a 2 game road trip with a visit to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a matinee game

Detroit Pistons v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

The Celtics begin a stretch of games where they will play 6 of the next 7 games on the road. They visit the Oklahoma City Thunder for this game and then will play in Houston on Tuesday before returning home to play the LA Clippers. They will then embark on a 4 game Western road trip after the All Star break.

They visit the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first of two meetings this season. They will meet again in Boston on March 8. The Thunder has been one of the surprise teams this season. They weren’t expected to do much after losing Russell Westbrook, but they have surprised everyone and are in the midst of the playoff picture in the West.

The Celtics are 3rd in the East, 2 games ahead of the 4th place Miami Heat and 2 games behind 2nd place Toronto Raptors. They are 14-10 on the road and 9-1 in their last 10 games. They are 11-6 against Western Conference teams. The Celtics have won their last 6 games, in spite of being short handed due to injuries.

The Thunder are 6th in the West, 1 game behind the 5th place Rockets and 1 game ahead of the 7th place Mavericks. The Thunder are 17-10 at home and 9-1 in their last 10 games. They are 11-7 against Eastern Conference teams. The Thunder are about as healthy as they have been all season and have won 4 straight games. Both teams stood pat at the trade deadline.

Kemba Walker returned to the starting lineup against the Hawks and is probable for this game. Gordon Hayward missed the last game but is also probable for this game. Jaylen Brown (ankle) and Daniel Theis (ankle) are both questionable for this game All 4 will be a game time decision. Robert Williams (hip) will remain out for this game.

Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall are back with the Red Claws for a Saturday night game I believe that Carsen Edwards is with the Celtics. Marcus Smart and Enes Kanter should start in place of Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis if they can’t play. Andre Roberson (knee) is the only player out for the Thunder.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Enes Kanter

Celtics Reserves
Romeo Langford
Javonte Green
Semi Ojeleye
Brad Wanamaker
Grant Williams
Vincent Poirier
Carsen Edwards

Injuries/NWT
Robert Williams (hip) out
Daniel Theis (ankle) questionable
Jaylen Brown (ankle) questionable
Gordon Hayward (foot) probable
Kemba Walker (knee) probable

Two Way Players
Tremont Waters
Tacko Fall

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Thunder Starters

PG: Chris Paul
SG: Luguentz Dort
SF: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
PF: Danilo Gallinari
C: Steven Adams

Thunder Reserves
Darius Bazley
Deonte Burton
Hamidou Diallo
Terrance Ferguson
Mike Muscala
Abdel Nader
Nerlens Noel
Isaiah Roby
Dennis Schroder

Injury List
Andre Roberson (knee) out

2-Way Players
Luguentz Dort
Kevin Hervey

Head Coach
Billy Donovan

Key Matchups

Kemba Walker vs Chris Paul
Chris Paul’s veteran leadership is one of the reasons for the Thunder’s surprise success this season. He is averaging 17.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He is shooting 47.9% from the field and 35.4% from beyond the arc. He is always a threat to score both in the paint and on the perimeter.

Gordon Hayward vs Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Gilgeous-Alexander is another reason for the success of the Thunder. He is averaging 19.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He is shooting 46.2% from the field and 33.7% from beyond the arc. Hayward needs to stay with him to prevent him from having a big game.

Honorable Mention
Jayson Tatum vs Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari is also playing well for the Thunder. He is averaging 19.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He is shooting 43.9% from the field and 40.5% from beyond the arc. Of all the Thunder, he is the one who is most likely to get hot from the perimeter. Jayson has been playing very well for the Celtics and in addition to his offense, the Celtics will need him to play tough defense on Gallinari.

Player to Watch
Dennis Schroder
Schroder comes off the bench and often plays down the stretch for the Thunder. He is averaging 19.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He is shooting 47.7% from the field and 38.7% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to defend him well as he can take over a game when he comes in.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Celtics will need to defend the perimeter as well as the inside because they have players who can score both inside and out. The Thunder tend to take care of the ball and turn it over only 13.7 times per game (7th). The Celtics will need to work hard on defense if they want to get steals and get easy baskets from them. The Celtics are 3rd with a defensive rating of 105.3 while the Thunder are 11th with a defensive rating of 107.7. The Celtics need to play tough team defense if they hope to get a win in this game on the road.

Rebound - Rebounding is also a key to winning. Much of rebounding is desire and effort and the Celtics have to put in the extra effort to grab rebounds. They need to rebound on the defensive end to keep the Thunder from getting second chance points and they need to rebound on the offensive end to give themselves extra possessions.

Defend Without Fouling - One of the things that has helped the Thunder to get wins is that they get to the line an average of 5+ more times than their opponents. They are very good at drawing fouls and the Celtics need to be careful to defend without fouling. Those extra free throws add up and can cause frustration for the opponent. The Celtics have to keep their focus and not let the calls take them out of their 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 team that plays harder. They have to be the team that wants to win more and play harder on both ends of the court.

Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have had games where they play very well in the first half and build a lead but then let up in the second half. Then in other games they dig a hole in the first half and then play very well in the second half to come back. They have to play hard and be consistent from start to finish with no let up in effort.

X-Factors
On the Road - The Celtics are on the road and the Chesapeake Energy Arena is one of the toughest places to play. Their fans are loud and make it tough for teams coming there. The Celtics have to focus on playing their game and not let the distractions of the road take them out of their game.

Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. How the refs call the game has a big influence on how the teams play. Will they let them play or call every little bit of contact? Will they call it evenly or will they favor one team or the other. Will they be influenced by the home crowd or will they call it fairly for both teams? It all effects the outcome of the game.