The Celtics host the Oklahoma City Thunder for their second straight home game before heading out for two big games on the road against the Pacers and Bucks. This is the second and final game between these two teams. The Celtics beat the Thunder 112-111 in Oklahoma City on February 9 when Marcus Smart stole the ball 5.8 seconds left to preserve the 1 point win.
The Celtics remain 3rd in the East, but have dropped to 2 games behind the Raptors. They are still 2.5 games ahead of the Heat. Both of those teams are also playing on Sunday. The Celtics are 23-8 at home but have lost their last 3 home games. they are 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are 16-10 against Western Conference teams. This game is very important for the Celtics if they hope to catch the Raptors for the 2nd seed.
The Thunder are 6th in the West. They are half a game behind 5th place Houston and 1.5 games behind 4th place Utah. They are half a game ahead of Dallas. They are 19-11 on the road and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They have won their last 2 games and 11 of their last 12 games on the road. They are 14-9 against Eastern Conference teams.
Gordon Hayward is listed as probable for this game after missing the last 2 games. Jaylen Brown also missed the last 2 games but is listed as out for this game. The Celtics are hoping he may be able able to return on Tuesday. Carsen Edwards and Vincent Poirier were with the Red Claws for Friday’s game and I’m not sure if they will be with the Celtics for this game or not. Andre Roberson (knee) and Darius Bazley (knee) are out for the Thunder.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Jaylen Brown (ankle) out
Gordon Hayward (knee) probable
Vincent Poirier (G-League) questionable
Carsen Edwards (G-League) questionable
Two Way Players
Probable Thunder Starters
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Luguentz Dort
SF: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
PF: Danilo Gallinari
C: Steven Adams
Andre Roberson (knee) out
Darius BAzley (knee) out
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 17.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.8 assists per game. He is shooting 49% from the field and 36.6% from beyond the arc. He is always a threat to score both in the paint and on the perimeter. Hopefully Kemba’s minutes won’t be limited too much because they will need him in this game.
Gordon Hayward vs Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Gilgeous-Alexander is another reason for the success of the Thunder. He is averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He is shooting 47.3% from the field and 35.1% from beyond the arc. He had 24 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in the first game between these two teams. Hopefully Hayward plays and he can stay with him on defense to prevent him from having another big game.
Jayson Tatum vs Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari is also playing well for the Thunder. He had 24 points and 5 rebounds in the February 9th game between these two teams. He is averaging 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists. He is shooting 44.1% from the field and 41.2% 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
Schroder comes off the bench and often plays down the stretch for the Thunder. He is averaging 18.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists. He is shooting 46.8% from the field and 38.1% 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 the Thunder have players who can score both inside and out. The Thunder tend to take care of the ball and turn it over only 13.4 times per game (6th). 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 106.1 while the Thunder are 9th with a defensive rating of 108.5. The Celtics have let their defensive intensity slip recently and they need to get back to playing tough team and individual defense if they hope to get a win in this game.
Rebound - Rebounding is also an important 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. It will be important for the Celtics to win the rebounding battle if they want to beat the Thunder.
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 are 5th in the league, attempting 24.7 free throws per game. On the other hand, they are 3rd, committing just 18.8 fouls per game. The Celtics need to be careful to defend without fouling. Those extra free throws add up and can cause frustration. 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, especially if their 3’s aren’t falling. They have allowed their opponents to be more aggressive than them in their past 3 losses. They have to be the team that wants to win more and play harder on both ends of the court. The Thunder play hard and the Celtics need to match their intensity and then take it up another notch.
Bench Play - The Celtics starters held their own against the Jazz but when the reserves for both teams came in, the Celtics quickly fell behind. The Thunder also has a strong bench that averages 55 points per game, led by 18.9 points from Dennis Schroder. The Celtics must get more from their 2nd unit on both ends of the court.
Back Home - The Celtics are playing at home once again. They have lost their last 3 games at home but hopefully can turn that around in this game. The Thunder are a good road team with a 19-11 record. They are playing in the final game of a 3 game trip. The Celtics need to draw energy from the home crowd and play with heart and hustle.
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 evenly for both teams? It all effects the outcome of the game. Especially knowing that the Thunder are good at getting to the line, the Celtics have to keep their focus and not let the officiating affect their play