Oklahoma City Thunder (6-game winning streak)
106.7 Offensive Efficiency (2nd)
102.2 Defensive Efficiency (24th)
+4.5 Differential (8th)
93.7 Pace (17th)
Boston Celtics (4-game losing streak)
101.3 Offensive Efficiency (12th)
100.5 Defensive Efficiency (18th)
+0.8 Differential (15th)
89.5 Pace (last)
The headlines for this matchup are obvious ones. It features the two teams involved in the controversial Kendrick Perkins-Jeff Green trade last season as well as Perkins’ return to Boston. These are also the two teams that lost in the conference finals last season. The point guard duel of Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo will be one of intrigue with both players having been rumored as a potential trade for each other earlier this season.
Thunder keys to the game
1. Get out and run
It’s no secret that the Celtics are one of the older teams in the league. They are last in the NBA in pace and 24th in the league in defense versus transition. The Thunder are at their best when they get out and run, 3rd in the league in transition points per possession (PPP) led by the killer trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The Thunder are also one of the best teams scoring on isolation plays (2nd in the NBA) and Boston is only 17th in the league defending those types of plays. If Westbrook and Durant look to go early in the shot clock, they should be able to have success and keep the pace of the game quicker than Boston would like.
2. Contain Rajon Rondo
Westbrook is one of the best defenders in the league but he will have a tough challenge keeping Rondo intact tonight. Both teams will definitely be motivated and expect Rondo to be aggressive penetrating especially since he will have Westbrook challenging him in one-on-one defense. Rondo is one of the best in the league using the pick-and-roll (0.86 PPP) especially with Kevin Garnett (1.12 PPP) and Westbrook has struggled this season defending the pick-and-roll (allowing 50 percent shooting). Westbrook needs to play sound defense and not gamble to make sure Rondo doesn’t have a huge game. If he doesn’t, Rondo will make sure the Celtics get plenty of open looks from spot-up jumpers (0.88 PPP) and coming off screens (1.18 PPP, 1st in the NBA), two of their biggest strengths.
3. Bench play
NBA benches usually aren’t as good when they travel on the road but the Thunder have a huge advantage over Boston when it comes to their bench. Oklahoma City needs to make sure they take advantage of their superior bench. It all starts with Harden who has been spectacular this season especially as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls (1.05 PPP, 4th in the NBA). The Thunder suffered a tough loss last week when they lost Eric Maynor for the season. Reggie Jackson has stepped into his role as the point guard off the bench. With Harden handling the ball so much for this second unit, Jackson will have open looks from the perimeter in this game (3-for-10 on spot-up jumpers this season) and needs to make a few early to keep the Celtics defense honest.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins, 101-95