Sunday Matinee Featuring the Celtics
Date: February 9, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 2:30 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder StatusSunday’s matchup marks game three in the Thunder’s four game homestand. The Thunder have swept February with wins over Cleveland on Wednesday and a grind out win against Detroit on Friday.
The Thunder earned its win on Friday differently than the Thunder’s usual victories. OKC was forced to grind through long possessions offensively and defensively for four quarters in a game where the number of possessions where low and the need for sharp execution was high. As a result, five Thunder players finished with 16 or more points with Chris Paul leading the way with 22. The variance in game flow stuck a new feather in the Thunder’s cap to be able to put itself in a position to win regardless of playing style or scheme its opponent might present each night.
“This was a really good game for us because it was a different kind of game,” said Thunder head Coach Billy Donovan postgame on Friday. “Sometimes you don’t always play games like that so the more scenarios or situations we get put into helps our team.”
Opponent BreakdownBoston sits third in the Eastern Conference with a 36-15 record while currently riding a six-game winning streak. Headlined by 2020 All-Stars in Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics boast the fifth best offensive rating in the league. Walker and Tatum combine for 44 points per game while coincidentally also shooting 44 percent from the field.
“They've got a lot of guys that can kind of get their own, create their own and don't need a lot of time,” said Donovan. “They’ve got a lot of guys that can, catch it and drive it; catch it and shoot it so I think that generally puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
Defensively, the Celtics average 8.3 steals per game while allowing the second fewest points per contest. With defensive specialists Marcus Smart on the perimeter and rim protector Enes Kanter in the lane, the Thunder will look to take care of the ball and generate quality looks at an efficient rate offensively.
“It’s gonna be a great test for us, top Eastern Conference team that plays very good basketball and has skilled players,” said Thunder center Nerlens Noel. “I think it's gonna be another test for us in this part of the season, trying to build on good habits.”
Matchup FocusThe inconsistencies within the Celtics lineup over the course of the season has opened the door for rookies to pick up starting minutes. Injuries to Gordon Hayward, Daniel Theis and Jaylen Brown have forced Boston to rely on its depth to maintain consistency. In its past two games, Celtics rookies Romeo Langford and Grant Williams picked up starting minutes and have proven to be integral cogs Boston’s operation.
Similarly, the Thunder’s youth contingent has been instrumental to the Thunders success throughout its recent winning trend. Rookie guard, Luguentz Dort has started in the Thunder’s last nine contests while contributing meaningful defensive minutes against top offensive players in the league. Be on the lookout for him to be a key defender in limiting looks from both Walker and Tatum.
“Lu’s done a really nice job for us in a difficult situation, at times we had Hami [Hamidou Diallo], Abdel [Nader] and Terrance [Ferguson] all gone. You bring him in and he's really, really contributed and he's helped,” said Donovan. “He’s certainly not perfect, and he's gonna make mistakes but the one thing I can feel good about is he's going to give you incredible effort on the ball.”
Stat to WatchTurnovers. The Thunder’s offense will be put to the test against Boston’s active defense. With interchangeable, athletic defenders on the perimeter, the Thunder’s offensive execution will look to be sharp and efficient to limit turnovers.
“We'll have to be efficient on offense and generate good shots,” said Donovan. “It all comes down to the same thing for every game– how good of shots can you generate coming down possession by possession. Certainly, against them that will be important.”
Thunder TrendThe Thunder have won nine out of its last 10 games and is currently riding a four-game winning streak which is the longest in the Western Conference at the moment. Sitting at a season-high 12 games above .500, OKC’s success has come in the face of a myriad of challenges. With that encouragement in mind, the Thunder will be prepared for the unique challenge that Boston will present on Sunday afternoon.
“Who knows what we'll see tomorrow night but, we'll come in the same way–playing together, moving the ball and finding the small gaps that make the plays and play at a high level,” said Thunder center Nerlens Noel.