The Celtics barely got the memory of playing the Thunder out of their heads, but now they get a rematch with Kevin Durant and the gang in Boston.
Since dropping that game to the C’s at home 92-83, the Thunder has reeled off wins in four of its last five games, including victories over Western Conference contenders Portland, Utah and Houston. But a stretch of good play can’t erase the fact that the Thunder let theCeltics jump out to a 22-point lead and could not catch up (thanks to some inspired play from Boston’s bench, which prevented an epic fourth quarter meltdown) last time these two met.
So what should we expect this time? Here’s a few things to watch out for.
1) Defense?: Let’s just say that in the Celtics’ last game, they were facing a team that was apathetic toward defense. Case in point: the Thunder are the fifth worst team in terms of opponent’s field goal percentage, allowing the opposition to shoot 48 percent a game. The only other team worse that has a record of .500 or better? The 6-6 Phoenix Suns, a team that clearly players the same way—get in a shootout and hope your offense plays a little better than the other team’s.
Well, this Thunder team clearly seems to be the same. After the C’s held it to a season-low 83 points, the Thunder has been back to its scoring ways, playing game with both teams in the 100’s.
Boston did a brilliant job of dictating the pace against OKC in the last contest, and should look to do the same here. In fact, it was the Celtics that took advantage of fast break opportunities and pushed the ball, taking the Thunder out of rhythm all night.
Should we expect that to happen again? Scott Brooks is a good coach, and he should have his team ready to adapt after it was humbled in the last game. The Celtics might not be able to stop Kevin Durant, but they limited everyone else on the court for almost the entire game (Russell Westbrook went off in the third quarter before settling down). That should be the focus again in this one.
2) Containing Durant: As was mentioned the last time these two sides met, Kevin Durant is the player that is most integral to his team’s offense (aka highest usage rate, which measures the percentage of offensive possessions a player uses when on the floor) in the league not named Kobe Bryant.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, but what might be is that a few of the other stats paint Russell Westbrook as OKC’s best player through its first 11 games.
Why? Well, Durant’s numbers are down early this year, though they are by no means awful. Still, when you average 30 a game one year it is tough to live up to that. While Durant still has been scoring 28 points per game, his shooting outside of 10 feet has dropped. Last year he was hitting 47 percent of the midrange shots he took (in the 10-15 foot range), but this year that number is down at 38 percent. And though his average on 3’s made a game is the same, he is attempting more; that, of course, means his three-point percentage has dipped.
Durant still has great range, and just forcing him outside will not be enough to stop him. But keeping him outside also does the job of keeping him off the line, and that is important when you remember that the Thunder is a team that generates free throws better than any other squad in the league, mainly thanks to its star player.
3) Contrast in Style: The Celtics—or maybe I should say Rajon Rondo—lead the league in assists. The bottom team? Oklahoma City. The Celtics pride themselves on defense, while Scott Brooks’ team is still learning how to play on that end of the floor. Boston is a veteran team that many people feel is in its last window of contention, while the Thunder are the up-and-coming contender (though it might be too early for that).
In short, everything about these teams is opposite. Let’s see which style reigns tonight.