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February 9: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Boston Celtics - Preview & Game Thread

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Oklahoma City play Boston for the first time this season

Oklahoma City Thunder Vs Boston Celtics At TD Garden Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics come into town to face the Thunder today on the back of six consecutive wins. Boston has been really good since the start of the year and the Celtics have gelled together nicely under the leadership of Kemba Walker. Oklahoma City have also been very good recently, the team has won four consecutive games and will look to beat the Celtics for the first time this season. The Celtics are the hardest challenge for the Thunder in the run down to the All-Star break so it is imperative that the team performs well, they cannot afford another game where the team has inconsistency on defence. The game starts at 3:30 (EST) as part of the NBA’s Sunday matinee games.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

  1. Steven Adams - Steven Adams feasted against the Detroit Pistons and will look to do the same against the Boston Celtics. Detroit had a thin rotation given the trade of Andre Drummond and therefore Thon Maker, a rail-thin centre, got a lot of minutes directly matched up against Steven Adams. Adams used his physical size to dominate Maker and dropped sixteen points, eight rebounds and three assists. It was a perfect example of Adams’ value to the Thunder as a reliable scoring option who is a match-up headache for opposing teams. There are few teams who have a big man who is capable of defending Adams and this should be an area that the Thunder should look to exploit against the Celtics as Steve faces off against his good friend, Enes Kanter. Kanter and Adams have a warm relationship but Steve will not let that affect his game, he will be looking to bust Enes’ ass. Oklahoma City should look to run offence through the post when Adams gets down low with Kanter on him.
  2. Diallo Dropped - Hamidou Diallo has been inconsistent this season. He was very good before the injury this season in terms of decision-making with the ball. The performances post-injury have dropped and the return of Terrance Ferguson has meant that Diallo has not played in the last two games. It is a harsh reality of the NBA, there are only so many minutes which can be allotted to players, a player will have to miss out when there is competition at their position. This can be a good moment for Hami going forward, it will provide him with the competitive fire inside to earn his place in the rotation again.
  3. Luguentz Dort - Luguentz Dort came out of nowhere to establish himself as a key part of the Thunder’s rotation. There was an expectation that Dort would spend the majority of his time in the G-League rather than starting for the Thunder with the main roster. Oklahoma City have stumbled onto a young, talented defender who has a lot of upside, the only issue is that Dort is still on a two-way G-League contract. The two-way contract only allows for the player to spend forty five days with the main roster before he is sent back to the G-League or signed to a main roster contract. For some players, it is a real decision for the front office in terms of deciding whether the player has earned a spot with the team and fits into the long-term vision going forward. In terms of Lu Dort, there is no question whether he deserves a contract. Sam Presti has to put the contract on the table and get Dort signed for multiple years.

Celtics’ Knots:

  1. Jayson Tatum - Jayson Tatum has emerged as one of the leaders on the Celtics this season. Tatum had a difficult second season in the league as he struggled with the expectations placed upon him and the growth in his game. In his sophomore season, Tatum was trying to do too much and forced mid-rangers instead of letting the offence flow naturally. Tatum’s strength as a three-level scorer makes him difficult to guard and highly efficient, he seemed to forget where his strengths lay last year. This season has been a different story for Tatum as his game has rebounded and grown into being a primary option on a contending team. The Boston offence designed by Brad Stevens does not have one lead guy, the point of emphasis with the offence switches between Kemba, Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Hayward dependent on who is available. The lack of traditional scoring hierarchy has meant that Jayson Tatum has carried a heavy offensive load for the Celtics, a role in which he has flourished. The most impressive aspect of Tatum’s game this season has been his improved shot diet. Tatum settled for too many mid-range jumpers last season instead of stepping out to the three-point line, this season he has taken a greater volume of threes.
  2. Kemba Walker - Kemba Walker was one of the big free agent splashes last season as he switched from Charlotte to Boston. The acquisition of Walker has quietly been one of the most important factors in Boston playing really well this season as his leadership has built a cohesive, together locker-room. Last season, Kyrie Irving’s distant and destabilising leadership fractured the locker-room and pitted himself against the young players on the team. It was a distraction from a championship-chasing season where the team eventually fell short against the Bucks. Kemba has made a point of building a brotherhood with his Celtics team-mates and leading from within instead of maintaining distance.

Random Side-Note:

Oklahoma City have gone 9-1 over the last ten games which has meant that the race for home-court advantage has tightened up dramatically. Utah have slipped over the last few games as have Dallas due to Luka Doncic being out injured. During all of the issues with the teams surrounding the Thunder, OKC have quietly continued winning games and putting themselves into the conversation.