After losing to the Denver Nuggets on January 1, the Boston Celtics will be out to regain some momentum when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night. However, the Thunder are probably the worst team to face when chasing a victory because, despite their youthful talent, they never know when to quit, and they never shy away from a fight.
Still, the Celtics built their reputation on their willingness to win gritty, or at least they did last season. Ideally, the Thunder will bring that same fight out in them on Tuesday and set off a new chain of events that sees the Celtics return to the combatively stringent opponent they were en route to the NBA Finals last season.
Of course, finding a way to blend this season's offense with last season’s defense would be the best of both worlds and would certainly help re-establish the Celtics as the team to beat in the NBA. But, in all honestly, I would settle for a simple victory over the Thunder, to get things back on track. With that being said, let’s take a look at 3 ways the Celtics can position themselves for success.
Funnel them toward the rim
Oklahoma ranks 3rd in the NBA for percentage of shots at the rim, with 38.7% of their offense coming within four feet of the basket; however, they’re converting their attempts at a pace that puts them dead-last in the league. If the Celtics want to control the glass and dictate the tempo of Tuesday’s game, finding ways to funnel the Thunder toward the rim should be high on their agenda.
By allowing the Thunder to stick with their rim-pressure game plan, the Celtics will be ensuring there are plenty of rebounds available, allowing them to get out in transition and into their early-offensive sets. Furthermore, the Thunder are only 23rd in the league for success on putbacks, meaning they’re not doing a great job of following up their misses with some reliable second-chance offense.
Get slumping stars back on track
Malcolm Brogdon is in a 5-game slump. Sam Hauser has been off the boil since the start of December. Derrick White’s hot shooting has cooled off significantly. A lot of Boston’s role players have found things hard over the past 4-to-6 weeks, and it’s shown in how the Celtics have stuttered through games at times.
Expecting all of the Celtics' slumping players to snap out of their funk in the same game is unrealistic, but if Brogdon can find his rhythm against a team who currently occupy the 13th spot in the Western Conference, then that would be a big step toward regaining the fear-factor Boston’s second unit has operated with to begin the season.
Of course, if Hauser suddenly goes for 18 from the field, then that would put the icing on the cake. But beggars can’t be choosers, and right now, I’m begging for Brogdon to come back to reality.
Don’t take the bait
The Thunder are very inviting when it comes to attacking their rim — in fact, they’re 27th in the league for shot frequency within their restricted area. However, that’s how the Thunder fools you. They leave the door open and then wait to complete their sting operation.
You see, Oklahoma might allow a ton of shots around their basket, but they rank 5th in the NBA for rim defense, limiting their opponents to just 63.6% within four feet of their basket. Instead, the Celtics need to stick to their usual game plan of generating high-quality shots from the perimeter and punishing any missteps the defense has when navigating the barrage of screens Boston will send their way.
There’s no shame in dropping a game to the Nuggets on their home court; they’re one of the best teams in the league and are playing with a chip on their shoulder. However, the Celtics can’t afford to slide into another losing streak so soon after snapping out of their last one. As such, Tuesday’s game against Oklahoma has come at the perfect time, assuming Boston can overcome their combative nature.
It would be nice to spend tomorrow talking about a Celtics victory, but it would be even sweeter if Brogdon was a driving force. As such, I’ll be cheering for two things from the Celtics when this contest gets underway.