- Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
It’s going to start in transition with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford pushing the ball up the floor, then in the halfcout there will be a significant number of post ups from all over the floor. The Boston Celtics have a number of players who can drive, hit the paint and create on the floor, and the Thunder is going to have to be ready for all of them.
As the Thunder hosts the Celtics tonight as the only home game in between a pair of three-game road trips, the same core tenets of their defense must apply: protect the rim, get out to contest at the three-point line, and don’t foul.
With each matchup, however, comes specific matchups that must be managed. With the Celtics, the key contributor is Kyrie Irving, the dynamic point guard who is averaging 21.8 points, 5.6 assists and 2.6 steals per game thus far in the early going. It’ll be a five-man defense to contain him, and particularly when Boston goes small, more and more Thunder players will be charged with trying to stay in front of him.
“Kyrie has them guys going. They want to play fast,” veteran forward Carmelo Anthony noted. “The young guys on the team are playing well from what I’ve seen.”
“We’ll try to be physical with (Irving) and not let him dance out there and get into a rhythm,” guard Andre Roberson said. “Keeping their team out of the middle. They’re a great team that tries to get to the middle and play for each other and with each other. We have to disconnect them and slow them down a little bit.”
The Thunder’s offense is going to have to help out its defense, especially considering Boston comes in with the best defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) in the NBA at 95.1. As an aside, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s Thunder club ranks second at 95.9. Despite how well Boston’s overall defense is playing right now because of its athleticism on the wing with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart, the Thunder will have to execute precisely.
There will definitely be a specific focus and game plan that the Celtics come in and try to execute on the defensive end. It’ll be up to Russell Westbrook to make sure he unlocks the key to opening up the offense, to ensure he gets his scoring threats like Anthony, Paul George and Steven Adams into the mix.
“If I know anything based on my experience of playing against them over the past couple of years and knowing what Brad Stevens likes to do, they’re the same Boston team,” Anthony said. “He’s a great coach. He always comes prepared. His teams always execute whatever the game plan is. Whatever they throw at us, we have to be prepared for that.”
– Last season, 15 percent of Jerami Grant’s shot attempts were dunks, and considering the value of the shot and how much Grant rocks the rim, it’s no surprise that the Thunder wanted him doing even more that this year. Through 7 games, Grant is up to 18 percent of his shot attempts as dunks. He’s made five so far, compared to 46 all of last season. Grant’s scoring numbers are up to 8.0 per game because at the power forward or center spots, he has a distinct quickness advantage. Plus, thanks to his work with Assistant Coach Adrian Griffin, Grant’s ball-handling and driving sturdiness has improved drastically.
- “Now he’s getting tighter, he’s getting lower and he’s stronger at the rim and is finishing better,” Donovan explained. “We need him to play like that because when he gets the ball in that area of the floor, when he’s off balance he stops himself, when he’s on balance and he can go up strong and finish it really opens up things for our team offensively.”
– Grant has gotten a lot of easy scoring opportunities because of his own improvements, but also because of the players around him. In particular, Donovan has pointed to Raymond Felton as the catalyst for the Thunder’s second unit that features some combination of Felton, Anthony, Grant, Patrick Patterson, Alex Abrines, Josh Huestis and Terrance Ferguson. Felton’s insane shooting splits (52.5 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from three) likely will not last all season, but his ability to impact the rest of the group certainly can.
- “The glue guy to that group has really been Raymond,” Donovan opined. “Having veteran leadership back there from him allows me to communicate with him. He’s so good at running, floor general-ing and managing the game that regardless of the personnel that’s out there, he can do a terrific job of getting everybody where they need to be.”