Game Preview: Celtics at Thunder
BOSTON – Well this worked out for the NBA and ABC, didn’t it? It was eight months ago when they chose to schedule the Boston Celtics (34-27) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (46-16) to meet on at 1 p.m. on March 10 in Oklahoma City. That game is now on the horizon, and it’s going to be a great one.
These two teams are playing fantastic basketball and neither has lost in the past week. Boston enters Sunday’s game having won five in a row, while Oklahoma City has won its last four games. The teams have combined for an 8-1 record in the month of March.
That record includes two consecutive gritty wins by the Celtics. For very different reasons, both of those victories should give them confidence as they head into Sunday’s game against the Thunder.
Boston went to Indiana Wednesday night and battled the Pacers on the road for an 83-81 victory in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The rough-and-tough Pacers had owned a 25-6 record at home heading into that contest, yet the Celtics outscored them 11-0 in the final 4:15 to pull away for the win.
Wednesday’s win provides Boston with the confidence that it can win on the road against a team that typically dominates at home. Chesapeake Energy Arena is a hostile environment where the Thunder have tallied the second-best home record in the NBA this season, at 27-4. That fact shouldn’t be any bit intimidating for the Celtics. This is a, “Been there, done that… four days ago!” situation for them.
Friday night’s overtime victory over the Hawks at TD Garden will also help the C’s. The Hawks are comprised of two of the best athletes in the game at their respective position in Jeff Teague and Josh Smith. Both of those players excelled Friday night, yet Boston still won.
The Celtics are likely going to need to overcome similar circumstances on Sunday. Oklahoma City is loaded with athletes, particularly its top three players, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. They are all long, quick, and can score with prowess. Teague and Smith are not on the same level as the Thunder’s stars, but Atlanta’s top players did help to prep the C’s for Sunday’s game.
There is no question that Oklahoma City is the superior team out of this duo but the Celtics won’t walk into the Thunder’s arena with the least bit of intimidation. Boston is hot, and it has prepped itself well for this primetime showdown on ABC.
Limit Kevin Martin
It’s a near guarantee that Durant and Westbrook are going to score their points. If that wasn’t the case, they wouldn’t be the first- and sixth-leading scorers in the league, respectively.
With that in mind, the Celtics should concern themselves more with limiting Oklahoma City’s other top scorers. The man that first comes to mind is Kevin Martin. Martin is one of the league’s elite shooters and heads into Sunday’s matchup averaging 14.5 points per game while hitting 43.1 percent from downtown on the season.
Boston limited Martin to just three points on 1-of-7 shooting when it downed the Thunder on Nov. 23 in TD Garden. Martin played nearly 32 minutes but tied for the game’s worst plus/minus rating, at minus-15. A similar performance on Sunday would be difficult to overcome for the Thunder.
A Big Day for Green
There is no doubt that over the past six weeks, Jeff Green has turned into the player Danny Ainge thought he was signing this summer. Over his last 15 games, Green has averaged 14.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG and 2.3 APG while nearly tallying 50/40/90 shooting splits on field goals, 3s and free throws. Those are elite numbers.
Additionally, Green has provided phenomenal on-ball defense. He has been the key piece to Boston’s small lineup while playing many minutes at power forward.
Boston will need him to continue his phenomenal play on Sunday. Green is going to be looked at for offense, but more importantly, the C’s will need him to make life difficult on his good friend, Durant.
Win the Battle of the Benches
Boston’s reserves are coming off of a game in which they outscored Atlanta’s reserves 46-8. That isn’t going to happen every night, but the Celtics need their bench to outperform the opponent’s more often than not.
Sunday is absolutely one of those occasions. The Thunder are a very good team but make no mistake about it – they are led by their starters. Oklahoma City lacks supreme depth, with the aforementioned Martin being the only true difference maker on their bench.
The same cannot be said for the C’s. Their bench has a substantial scoring punch with Jeff Green (11.1 PPG), Jason Terry (10.4 PPG) and Jordan Crawford (career 13.0 PPG). Boston needs that group, along with Chris Wilcox, to outperform Oklahoma City’s bench.