The Celtics have reached the final game of their 4 game road trip as they visit the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is the second and final game between these two teams this season. The Celtics beat the Thunder 111-105 in the first game in Boston on November 20. These teams split the series 1-1 last season with each team winning on the road. The Celtics have won their last 4 games in Oklahoma City.
The Celtics are 4th in the East. They have won their last 3 games and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 20-16 on the road and 14-12 against Western Conference opponents. The Celtics are tied with 3nd place Philadelphia (but.003 behind) and half a game behind 2nd place Milwaukee. They are 3.5 games behind 1st place Miami. They are 2 games ahead of 5th place Chicago, 2.5 games ahead of 6th place Cleveland and 4 games ahead of 7th place Toronto.
The Thunder are 14th in the West and are 1-9 in their last 10 games. They have lost their last 9 games and are 9-26 at home. They 6-20 against Eastern Conference teams. They are 4.5 games behind 13th place Sacramento and 3 games ahead of 15th place Houston. In the Tankathon for the best lottery odds, OKC is 4th, 1.5 games behind 3rd place Detroit, 2.5 games behind 2nd place Orlando, and 3 games behind 1st place Houston. They are 3.5 games ahead of 5th place Indiana.
This is the second of back to back games for both teams and both teams had to travel after their game the night before with the Nuggets having the longer trip. The Celtics played at Denver on Sunday, while the Thunder played in Orlando. The Celtics are 7-5 on the second night of back to back games and they are 4-2 when both games are on the road. The Celtics have 2 more back to back sets left after this one. The Thunder are 2-10 on the second night of back to back games. This is their first road/road set.
This is the final game of a 4 game road trip for the Celtics. They are 3-0 so far on the trip. They will head home after this game for games against Utah and Minnesota. They will have a game at Toronto before a 3 game home stand against Miami, Indiana and Washington. They will then end the season with a 3 game road trip through Chicago, Milwaukee and finally Memphis.
Oklahoma City just finished a 3 game road trip with the game on Sunday in Orlando. They were 0-3 on the trip. This is the first of 2 straight home games for the Thunder with Orlando coming in on Tuesday. They will then finish the season with a 6 game road trip that will take them through a mix of Eastern and Western teams including Denver, Portland, Atlanta, Detroit, Phoenix, and Portland for a second time.
Aaron Nesmith remains questionable for this game with the ankle injury. He has missed the last 7 games and is listed as a game time decision for this game. Marcus Smart is a late scratch for this game with a sinus problem that flared up during Sunday’s game in Denver. Rob Williams is also listed as out with right patella tendinopathy. I imagine that both are being held out as a precaution on the back to back. I’m guessing that Derrick White and Grant Williams will start in their place, but given Payton Pritchard’s recent play, he may very well get the start at the point instead of White.
The Thunder have 7 players out and another questionable. Luguentz Dort (shoulder), Josh Giddey (hip), Ty Jerome (groin), Mike Muscala (ankle), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (foot), Derrick Favors (back) and Kenrich Williams (knee) are all listed as out. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is questionable with an ankle injury. He missed the Thunder’s game in Orlando on Sunday and is a game time decision for this game. If he is unable to play, Tre Mann will likely get the start once again.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Derrick White
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Grant Williams
C: Al Horford
Aaron Nesmith (ankle) questionable
Marcus Smart (sinus) out
Robert Williams (knee) out
Probable Thunder Starters
PG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
SG: Aaron Wiggins
SF: Aleksej Pokusevski
PF: Darius Bazley
C: Olivier Sarr
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (ankle) questionable
Luguentz Dort (shoulder) out
Derrick Favors (back) out
Josh Giddey (hip) out
Ty Jerome (groin) out
Mike Muscala (ankle) out
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (foot) out
Kenrich Williams (knee) out
Lindy Waters III
Derrick White vs Shai Gilgeous- Alexander
Gilgeous-Alexander is leading the Thunder with 24.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 45.1% from the field and 29.0% from beyond the arc. He is very talented and the Celtics need to pay attention to him on defense. He is the only one of 2 active Thunder players averaging double figures and so slowing him down will go a long way toward getting a win in this game. With Marcus Smart out, I’m guessing that Derrick White gets the start. If Gilgeous-Alexander is out, Tre Mann will likely get his second straight start.
Grant Williams vs Darius Bazley
Bazley is one of two active players averaging in double figures for the Thunder. He is averaging 10.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. He is shooting 41.9% from the field and 30.0% from beyond the arc. I’m guessing that with Timelord out, Grant Williams will start at the 4 and Al Horford will move to center. If Grant can contain Jokic, he should be able to deal with Bazley.
The Celtics vs Themselves
In a game like this against an opponent who has a long list of players out with injuries and a losing record, the Celtics sometimes let up and allow the opposing team play harder. It’s even harder when it is the final game of a road trip. Every game has playoff implications as the standings are so close in the East. The Celtics can’t afford to lose to teams they should beat. If the Celtics lose this game, it won’t be the Thunder who beat them, but the Celtics would have to beat themselves.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always a key to winning. The Thunder are last in the league in scoring, averaging just 103.1 points per game and they are 16th with a defensive rating of 111.1. The Celtics are 16th in scoring, averaging 109.7 points per game and they are first with a defensive rating of 105.4. With their two best defenders out, hopefully the others step up and keep the Celtics strong on defense. The Celtics need to continue to make defense their identity.
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. The Thunder are 6th in rebounding with 45.9 rebounds per game, just behind the Celtics who are 5th with 46.4 rebounds per game. The Celtics need to work hard to beat the Thunder on the boards.
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.
Play Fast and Move the Ball - The Celtics are at their best when they move the ball and play fast, running up the court and moving without the ball. They need to make the extra pass and find the open man. The Celtics are 16-2 when they have 28 or more assists in a game. The Celtics need to continue to move the ball and play as a team. The Celtics need to set the pace and keep the ball moving without getting careless.
Back to Back on the Road - Both teams are playing on the second night of back to back games and both teams had to travel after Sunday’s game. The Celtics are playing in their 4th straight road game and their 4th game in 6 days. The Celtics have the advantage of having a full roster while the Thunder have the advantage of being at home in front of their fans. The final game of a road trip is always the hardest because the players are tired and ready to be home. Can the Celtics fight all of those things and come out the winner?
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.
According to our friends at DraftKings, the Celtics are a massive 13-point favorite against the Thunder. After blowouts in three consecutive Western Conference cities, you can understand the confidence of the bettors. Oklahoma City has lost nine straight and are still without a large chunk of the regular rotation. But Boston is on the second night of a back-to-back and coming in late from Denver and Marcus Smart and Robert Williams are out.
Over the last two seasons, the Thunder have been a scrappy opponent. The Celtics staged a fourth quarter comeback in OKC last year and choked away a game at TD Garden a month later. Back in November, they again came into Boston and nearly stormed back from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter. But this isn’t that Celtics team anymore. So far out west, they’ve built big leads and for the most part, maintained them until the buzzer.
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