Who starts tonight?
With Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Robert Williams out tonight, the Celtics will its sixth different starting lineup in as many games. Tristan Thompson most likely starts in Williams’ place.
Without Walker, Stevens has a decision to make: does he slide Marcus Smart into the primary ball handler role like he did against the Suns--starting Romeo Langford at the 2/3--or does Payton Pritchard start alongside Smart? Pritchard has crashed through the rookie wall over the last six games, hitting 16 of his last 31 threes.
Semi Ojeleye started at power forward against the Warriors and Nets and unless Stevens decides to go small against OKC with Langford on the floor, he’ll probably get his 13th start of the year with extended time for Grant Williams and Jabari Parker.
Can the Celtics avoid a cold start like they did in Charlotte?
In their last game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City, the Celtics spent most of the game climbing uphill. Not even midway through the first quarter, they faced a 12-point deficit on the road.
Outside of Sunday’s miserable start in Charlotte, the Celtics have been starting games well of late. Against Chicago, Phoenix, and Brooklyn, Boston had healthy first quarter leads. Without Walker and Tatum, they’ll be hurting for offensive firepower, so the Celtics could rely on their defense. They’re fifth in the league in defensive rating (108 points per 100 possessions) since the trade deadline and the Thunder are dead last in offense (99.1).
Who steps up tonight: Romeo Langford or Aaron Nesmith?
With the injury report claiming two perimeter players, there’s an opportunity for the Celtics’ two young wings to step up. As CelticsBlog’s Adam Taylor points out, Nesmith has had a recent resurgence:
Defensive efforts are starting to become a common theme with Nesmith. From the player who didn’t know what spots on the floor he should occupy to dominating an entire defensive possession in under 10 months is some serious individual growth. One would expect Nesmith has spent an inordinate amount of hours in the film room to expedite these improvements.
The 6’5’’ wing’s improvements don’t stop on the defensive end either. Over his last three games, Nesmith’s three-point percentage sits at 57.1% on 2.3 attempts per game, which looks far closer to what fans hoped he could provide when the Celtics drafted him. Finding the bottom of the net is always a great confidence booster, but how you’re getting those shots is exponentially more significant in terms of continued success.
Langford has had impressive stretches of solid defense, but after looking lost against the Hornets’ fast-paced offense on Sunday, he was pulled after playing only three minutes.