The Celtics are coming off a loss to the San Antonio Spurs, dropping them to 6-6 on the year and the path doesn’t get much easier. Boston will need to shake off some of the Thanksgiving Day rust as the Oklahoma City Thunder (9-3) come to town, led by the explosive offensive combination of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Despite trading James Harden in the offseason to Houston, the Thunder remain a legitimate threat to win a championship. This game can be used as a measuring stick in the early part of this NBA season. A loss would bring Boston’s losing streak to three, and drop them a game below .500. However, a victory against an upper echelon team would silence some of the early season criticism.
One of the loudest criticisms has been the Celtics’ defense. With so many new faces in the rotation, defensive cohesiveness has been poor. The Thunder provide little relief. They rank as the NBA’s second highest scoring team with an average of 103 points per game. If Doc Rivers’ squad doesn’t make a quick improvment on the defensive end, expect the Thunder to break the century mark with ease.
Rebounding has also been an issue for the Celtics. They are last in the league in rebounding, and will need to account for Durant who is averaging more than 10 rebounds per game. Serge Ibaka can also be a terror on the glass, grabbing nearly two offensive rebounds per game. Boston cannot afford to give an already potent Thunder line-up many second chance opportunities.
Rajon Rondo continued his assist streak against the Spurs on Wednesday night, bringing the total to 35 games. He will have another chance to inch closer to Magic Johnson’s record of 46. In order to do this he’ll have to go against Westbrook, one of the elite defensive guards in the NBA. The individual battle between these two will make for some intense competition throughout the game.
This game will also signify a welcoming home of sorts for Kendrick Perkins. The current Thunder center spent eight seasons with the Celtics, including one championship title in 2008. He’s still cherished in fans’ hearts, and will undoubtedly receive a standing ovation from the Garden crowd. Perkins was traded for Jeff Green, and Green will have a chance to go up against his former Oklahoma City teammates.
Green is part of a bench that has been an overall disappointment this year. They have been outscored by the opponents’ bench in the past three games. Significant contributions from Green, Leandro Barbosa, Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger would alleviate some of the pressure placed on the starters to perform at such a high level.
After the Thunder, the Celtics will have a day off before heading to Orlando to take on the Magic Sunday night.