The Celtics visit the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first of 2 games this season. These two teams will meet for a second game on April 27 in Boston. The Celtics and Thunder tied the series last season with each team winning on the road. The Thunder is a much different team from the one the Celtics faced last season and the Celtics have changed some as well.
The Celtics have moved up one spot to 7th in the East. They are half a game ahead of 8th place Miami and 9th place Indiana. The Celtics are one game behind Atlanta (6th) and New York (5th). They are 1.5 games behind 4th place Charlotte. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and 9-16 on the road. They are 6-10 vs Western teams.
The Thunder are 13th in the West but just 2.5 games behind the 10th place Warriors and making a play in tournament for the playoffs. They are half a game behind 11th place Sacramento and 6.5 games ahead of 14th place Houston. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 8-13 at home. They are 8-8 vs Eastern teams.
Both teams made trades at the deadline with the Celtics sending out Jeff Teague, Javonte Green and Daniel Theis in exchange for Evan Fournier, Luke Kornet and Mo Wagner. The Thunder traded George Hill and Terrance Ferguson in exchange for Tony Bradley and Austin Rivers. Both Moe Wagner and Luke Kornet should both be available for the Celtics but the other players are not expected to play in this one.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games and in the 5th game in 7 nights. They snapped their 3 game losing streak with a win over the Bucks on Friday night. They are 3-6 so far this season on the second night of back to back games. They won the first 3 and have lost 6 straight. They are 1-2 when the games are road/road.
The Celtics have started 19 different starting lineups this season while the Thunder have started 17 different starting lineups. It isn’t any surprise that both teams have struggled with consistency due to injuries and covid. The starting lineups for this one are just a guess on my part because Brad could move Smart to PG and then insert a player at the 3 or 4 to replace Kemba, or he could start Pritchard or any number of other iterations of the starting lineup.
Romeo Langford and Tristan Thompson are expected to miss this game due to health and safety protocols. Kemba Walker will miss this game since it is a back to back. Semi Ojeleye is out with a hip injury. Fournier was at first expected to join the team in OKC but was listed as out due to health and safety protocols on today’s injury list.
For the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is out due to plantar fasciitis and that is a big blow to the Thunder as he averages 23.7 points per game. Darius Bazley is out with a shoulder injury. Austin Rivers and Tony Bradley are both out due to being new to the team after the trade.
UPDATE: Woj just posted that Al Horford will no longer be active for the rest of the season as they look at younger players. I’m not sure it that includes this game or not as it was just posted and he wasn’t on the 5:30 NBA injury list. I will guess that if he doesn’t play in this game, Moses Brown may get the start.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Grant Williams
C: Robert Williams
Kemba Walker (rest) out
Romeo Langford (covid) out
Tristan Thompson (covid) out
Semi Ojeleye (hip) out
Evan Fournier (covid) out
Probable Thunder Starters
PG: Theo Maledon
SG: Luguentz Dort
SF: Aleksej Pokusevski
PF: Isaiah Roby
C: Al Horford
Darius Bazley (shoulder) out
Tony Bradley (trade) out
Austin Rivers (trade) out
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (plantar fasciitis) out
Robert Williams III vs Al Horford
Former Celtic Al Horford’s tenure in Philly didn’t work out as he had hoped and now he is playing in Oklahoma City. One of the reasons Horford wanted to play in Philly was so he didn’t have to play center and now he is back at the center position. With Gilgeous-Alexander out, Horford is the leading scorer for the Thunder. He is averaging 14.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. He is shooting 44.7% from the field and 37.4% from beyond the arc this season.
Jaylen Brown vs Lugentz Dort
Dort is averaging 12.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists. He is shooting 38.5% from the field and 32.5% from beyond the arc. Depending on which players Brad starts in this one, it may be Brown or possibly Smart who will be matched up against Dort.
Grant Williams vs Isaiah Roby
Roby is averaging 9.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. He is shooting 53.1% from the field and 33.9% from three. Assuming Grant Williams gets the start here, he will be matched up with Isaiah Roby. Of course, Brad may start a completely different lineup.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Thunder average just 106.4 points per game but they are 12th with a defensive rating of 110.9. The Celtics are 24th with a defensive rating of 112.6. The Celtics played better defense against the Bucks on Friday than they have played in awhile. The Celtics need to continue 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.
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 for all 48 minutes. We saw this for the first time in a long while in Friday’s game and hopefully they will show the same aggression and consistency in this game.
Play Fast and Move the Ball - The Celtics won on Friday by moving the ball and playing fast, running up the court and moving without the ball. They made the extra pass and found the open man on most plays and shot almost 50% from the field and 46.8% from beyond the arc. The Celtics looked energized and played with a bit of swagger. They need to play that way in this game as well.
Road Fatigue - The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games and in their 4th straight road game and their 5th game in 7 days. They have been playing short handed and so fatigue may come into play. The Celtics have to focus on playing their game and not let the distractions of the road take them out of their game. Hopefully they have enough in the tank to finish this game strong.
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 and the Celtics need to play the right way and not allow the officiating to take them out of their game.