3/16 Game Preview: Thunder at Celtics
The Oklahoma City Thunder appear to have regained their shooting touch, while the Boston Celtics are still trying to get theirs back.
Boston also won't have its best defender available as it attempts to avoid a third consecutive loss in its Wednesday night matchup with the visiting Thunder.
The Celtics played their first game without valuable forward Jae Crowder on Tuesday, though their suddenly sluggish offense was more of a factor in a 103-98 loss at Indiana. They shot 38.3 percent overall and finished 8 for 32 from 3-point range en route to their first two-game skid since Jan. 18-20.
Boston (39-28) posted nearly identical numbers in having its 14-game home win streak halted with Friday's 102-98 defeat to Houston, in which Crowder suffered a sprained right ankle that will sideline him at least two weeks. The Celtics averaged 110.7 points in winning seven of their previous nine.
Isaiah Thomas was held to 5-of-18 shooting by the Pacers and Avery Bradley is 1 of 10 on 3-pointers during the two-game slump. Marcus Smart is 4 of 23 from beyond the arc and shooting 30.6 percent overall over a five-game stretch.
"We missed a lot of open shots," Smart said. "It was just one of those games. Guys that normally knock down the shots we that were getting couldn't knock them down."
Crowder's ability to guard the opposition's best scorer also was missed with Paul George leading Indiana with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting. His injury comes at an inopportune time with matchups against Kevin Durant and Toronto's DeMar DeRozan on tap this week.
The Celtics will see Durant for the first time in over two years, as he's missed the teams' past four meetings with various injuries. He had a strained hamstring when Boston snapped a five-game series skid with a 100-85 win in Oklahoma City on Nov. 15, highlighted by the former Oklahoma State star Smart's career high-tying 26 points.
Oklahoma City (45-22) enters a three-game trip with some needed momentum by virtue of Monday's 128-94 rout at Portland, which moved the Thunder 10 1/2 games up on the second-place Blazers as they close in on a fifth Southwest Division title in six years.
After shooting a combined 17.8 percent on 3s in consecutive losses to Minnesota and San Antonio, the Thunder made 9 of 17 attempts and shot 59.0 percent overall in Monday's bounce-back.
"We know we might face these guys in the playoffs, so we wanted to send a message," Durant said.
The game also saw a return to form from Russell Westbrook, who notched his league-leading 12th triple-double with 17 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds without a turnover. The All-Star Game MVP had nine giveaways and went 5 of 16 from the field against San Antonio.
Enes Kanter added 26 points and is averaging 17.2 points on 69.4 percent shooting over his last five.
Oklahoma City, which had seven players reach double figures and ranks second in the NBA at 109.8 points per game, should be back at full strength with Dion Waiters expected to rejoin the team in Boston. The sixth man has missed four games following the shooting death of his brother in Philadelphia last week.
Boston, tied with Miami for third in the East, ranks third in the league in defensive efficiency at 99.1 points per 100 possessions.