The Celtics open their play in the bubble with a scrimmage against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is the first game for both teams. These two teams met twice before the hiatus with the teams playing pretty much even. The Celtics are the only team with 5 players in ESPN’s Bubble top 50 while the Thunder is one of 4 teams with 4 players in the top 50.
The Celtics are 3rd in the East with a record of 43-21 while the Thunder are 5th in the West with a record of 40-24. The NBA determined that the Thunder lineup of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams (minimum of 100 minutes) was the best in the league prior to the hiatus.
These two teams played in Oklahoma City on February 9 where the Celtics beat the Thunder 112-111. Marcus Smart stole the ball with 5.8 seconds remaining to preserve the 1 point win. They faced off again in Boston on March 8 where the Thunder beat the Celtics 105-104. Chris Paul stole the ball and Dennis Schroder hit a layup with 8 seconds remaining to put the Thunder ahead. Jayson Tatum missed a fadeaway jumper with 1 second remaining giving the Thunder the win.
The NBA will be changing some of the rules for the first scrimmages, the most notable will be that they will play 4 ten minute quarters rather than the normal 12 minute quarters. For the remaining 2 scrimmages for each team, they will go back to regular 12 minute quarters. The shorter quarters may limit substitutions and minutes for some of the deeper rotation players.
Just as in the regular preseason, the lineups may be fluid as coaches seek to get all of their players some court time. Brad Stevens said on Tuesday that Kemba is unlikely to play in this scrimmage and that the starters will play short stints. The reserves have gotten very high praise for their play so far in practices and it will be interesting to see their progress as they play vs another team. I’m going to guess that Smart will get the start but we may see Carsen Edwards or Brad Wanamaker in the starting lineup instead. Tremont Waters suffered a concussion and is day to day as he proceeds through the NBA concussion protocol.
Andre Roberson has not played since January 2018 when he injured his knee but has been practicing with the team and will probably play in the restart but whether he plays in this game or starts will remain to be seen. Isaiah Roby is out with a foot injury. Nerlens Noel suffered a minor ankle injury on Saturday and is questionable at this point. Both are listed as day to day on the injury list.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Kemba Walker (knee) out
Tremont Waters (concussion) questionable)
Probable Thunder Starters
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Luguentz Dort
SF: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
PF: Danilo Gallinari
C: Steven Adams
Isaiah Roby (foot) out
Andre Roberson (knee) game time decision
Nerlens Noel (ankle) game time decision
Marcus Smart vs Chris Paul
Chris Paul’s veteran leadership is one of the reasons for the Thunder’s surprise success this season. He is averaging 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.8 assists per game. He is always a threat to score both in the paint and on the perimeter. With Kemba Walker likely not playing in this game, we should see a lot of Marcus Smart playing against CP3 at the point.
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 had 24 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in the first game between these two teams but missed their second meeting. Hayward will need to stay with him to keep him from having a big game in this one.
Jayson Tatum vs Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari is playing well for the Thunder. He had 24 points and 5 rebounds in the February 9th game between these two teams and 18 points and 6 rebounds in their second meeting. 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 had 27 points, 6 assists and 2 steals in the March 8 game, including the game winner. He is averaging 19.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.1 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 13.5 times per game (6th). The Celtics are 4th with a defensive rating of 106.2 while the Thunder are 9th with a defensive rating of 108.4. The Thunder may get a boost on the defensive end if Andre Roberson can come back to play anywhere near where he was before the injuries.
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. The Thunder average 42.7 rebounds per game while the Celtics average 46.0 rebounds per game. It will be important for the Celtics to win the rebounding battle if they want to beat the Thunder.
Bench Play - During the season before the hiatus, we would often see the Celtics starters get off to a big lead only to see the lead disappear when the reserves would come in. The Thunder has a strong bench that averages 55 points per game, led by 19 points from Dennis Schroder. Celtics’ reserves have reportedly shown great progress so far in Orlando so it will be interesting to see how they look in actual competition.
Scrimmage - With this being a scrimmage that doesn’t count in the standings, the lineups and rotations may be a bit odd with coaches trying to give every player minutes and experiment with lineups.
No fans - It’s going to be interesting to see how teams react to not having fans in the stands. There is no home court advantage and no cheering fans to affect the referees or either team. There’s no telling which teams this will affect more.
Rust - All of the teams will be a bit rusty after not playing since March. Some teams may shake off the rust quicker than others but we may see both teams being very rusty in this first play against an opposing team in 4 months.