The Celtics are back at the TD Garden to host the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is the first game between these two teams. They will meet again in Oklahoma City on January 3. The Celtics won the series 2-0 last season, winning both at home and on the road. The Celtics are 14-14 against the Thunder in the OKC era. They are 8-5 in OKC and 6-9 in Boston.
The Celtics are 2nd in the East, just half a game behind the Bucks. They are 5-1 at home and 2-0 against Western Conference teams. They have won their last 6 games. The Thunder are 9th in the West, moving up from 12th with their win over the Knicks on Sunday. They are 2-4 on the road and have won their last 2 games. They are 3-3 against Eastern Conference teams.
The Thunder are playing on the second night of back to back games and are playing in the 3rd game in 4 nights. They played the Knicks in New York on Sunday in a matinee game. This is their second back to back set of the season and they are 0-1 in the second game so far. This is the second game of a 4 game road trip for the Thunder. They will play at Washington and at Memphis before heading home.
The Thunder has a very young roster. In fact, it was the youngest roster in the league on opening day. They have 4 rookies, 6 second year players and 2 third year players on the roster. They may be young, but they play hard every night and they can not be taken for granted. They put up 145 points on the Knicks in regulation on Sunday. But then, they also allowed 135 points from the Knicks.
Al Horford (back) and Jaylen Brown (knee) both missed Saturday’s game against the Pistons. Both players are no longer showing on the injury list so I expect them both to play. Malcolm Brogdon (hamstring) is expected to miss his 3rd straight game. Robert Williams III (knee) and Danilo Gallinari (knee) both also remain out for this game.
For the Thunder, Darius Bazley sprained his ankle on Wednesday and missed Sunday’s game against the Knicks and is out for this game. Trre Mann left Sunday’s game early in the second quarter with back soreness. He is also out for this game. Chet Holmgren is out for the entire season with a ruptured tendon in his foot.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Marcus Smart
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Grant Williams
C: Al Horford
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Robert Williams III (knee) out
Malcolm Brogdon (hamstring) out
Head Coach (Interim)
Probable Thunder Starters
PG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
SG: Josh Giddey
SF: Lugentz Dort
PF: Aleksej Pokusevski
C: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
2 Way Players
Lindy Waters III
Out/Injuries Darius Bazley (ankle) out
Tre Mann (back) out
Chet Holmgren (foot) out
Marcus Smart vs Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Marcus Smart will have his hands full trying to defend Gilgeous-Alexander who is averaging 31.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He is shooting 54.3% from the field and 36.4% from beyond the arc. On Sunday against the Knicks, he finished with 37 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. The Celtics need to find a way to slow him down and hope that he may be tired after playing 36 minutes on Sunday.
Jaylen Brown vs Josh Giddey
Giddey is averaging 14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game. He is shooting 47.1% from the field and 34.4% from beyond the arc. In Sunday’s game against the Knicks, he finished with a triple double of 24 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assistsin almost 37 minutes. Hopefully Brown will be healthy and able to play in this one. Giddey is a good all around player and the Celtics need to stay with him to slow him down and keep him off the boards.
Jayson Tatum vs Lugentz Dort
Tatum is playing at an MVP level and hopefully will continue on that level in this game. Dort is averaging 13.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He is shooting 39.2% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc. On Sunday against the Knicks, he finished with 24 points, 3 rebounds and 1 block in 24 minutes.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Thunder average 115.8 points per game (9th) and they are 14th with a defensive rating of 110.7. The Celtics average 119.5 points per game (1st) and they are 21st with a defensive rating of 112.8. The Thunder played little to no defense on Sunday when they allowed the Knicks to score 135 points. The Celtics defense has looked better in recent games and hopefully it will continue to improve. They need to continue to tighten up their defense and make it a priority.
Rebound - Rebounding is also a key to winning. Much of rebounding is desire and effort as evidenced by Payton Pritchard grabbing 5 rebounds against the Nuggets. The Celtics as a team 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. The Thunder are 6th with 45.7 rebounds per game while the Celtics are 23rd with just 41.8 rebounds per game.
No Let Up - The Thunder have the 3rd best third quarter point differential in the league. They outscore their opponents by 3.9 points in third quarters. The Celtics can’t afford to let up in the third quarter, no matter how the game had gone before. The Celtics have to be ready for the Thunder to up their effort to another level in the third quarter. The Thunder also came back from 16 down with 4 minutes left in a game to beat the Dallas Mavericks. The Celtics can not let up at any time in the game because the Thunder are capable of going on a run if they do. Play hard from start to finish.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics need to keep their focus and not turn the ball over. The Thunder are 4th in the league with 20.5 points off turnovers per game. The Celtics have to move the ball but to make careful passes and not get sloppy. They also have to be aware when dribbling the ball so as not to allow the Thunder to get steals. The Thunder will make them pay if they get sloppy and turn the ball over.
At Home vs Back to Back - The Celtics are at home and they should get motivation from playing in front of their fans. The Celtics have had a day off after playing in Detroit on Saturday. The Thunder are playing back to back on the road and so fatigue may be a factor for them down the stretch. The Thunder are just 2-4 on the road and so the Celtics need to defend their home court and draw energy from their fans.
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. 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. The refs have been quick to call techs for complaining this season and the Celtics need to remember that. Also, they should never be caught complaining to the refs while the other team goes in for a score.
The Celtics will tip off against the Oklahoma City Thunder at 7:30 p.m. EST. All nationally televised NBA games can be watched on SlingTV.