Start time - 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder have lost nine straight games coming in tonight’s contest and this recent losing streak has seriously aided the team’s draft lottery position. Oklahoma City have closed the gap on Detroit and Orlando to just 1.5 games. Getting into the top-3 of the Draft will provide the Thunder with the opportunity to add another blue-chip, cost-controlled young player.
Oklahoma City’s last game against Orlando was crucial in that regard. Orlando’s ‘lead’ in the lottery odds standings was drastically reduced and there is now a real chance of the Thunder landing someone like Jabari Smith Jr or Chet Holmgren.
The Thunder were without Shai for the last game and he is listed as being questionable for tonight’s game. Gilgeous-Alexander has been the Thunder’s driving force over the second of the half and his absence is keenly felt. Losing Shai means that the Thunder have very little in the playmaking department.
Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon are really the only two players who could be considered point guards at the moment. For the Thunder, that means that the offense is pretty volatile particularly when it comes to Pokusevski.
Poku is a puzzling player who will often leave you despairing. He is capable of real moments of quality but equally he has head-scratching turnovers by the bucket load. Aleksej had some sweet dimes but his ball control was not good and the Thunder’s offense was constrained by his inability to get the ball to his teammates consistently.
All of that being said, Pokusevski posted the highest plus-minus on the team (+17) and his defensive work was again fantastic as he notched 2 blocks and 2 steals. Pokusevski has always read the game well on the less glamorous end of the floor but his improvement in his physique has helped him become more impactful.
Last season, Aleksej would make the correct decision but his lack of core strength would mean that the opposing team could just truck straight through him. Pokusevski is now much stronger around the midsection which has allowed him to absorb contact and stay in his assignment’s jersey.
Theo Maledon’s play has been steady for the Thunder off the bench but I am still concerned about his ability to break down a defense in a half-court setting. Theo’s passing is crisp and considered but he struggles to stretch the opposing defense and create these openings.
Maledon is not a space creator above the arc and his dribble package is not advanced enough for him to simply dance his way inside. I would like to see Maledon focus on getting faster and improving his acceleration. Speed is always a good way to beat the defense and attack the painted area.
The Boston Celtics are a team who have turned the corner over the last few months. The Celtics did not start the season well and there were concerns about the team’s identity. Boston boast two fantastic young wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown but their team did not have a defining trait.
During Brad Stevens’ tenure, the Celtics were best known for creative, motion offense but that philosophy fell by the wayside once Jayson Tatum grew into being an elite, isolation scorer. Since then, Boston have been looking for a concept to build around.
Ime Udoka, the current Celtics’ head coach, has settled on defense being the team’s calling card. Boston lead the league in Defensive Rating and the team is excellent at making life difficult every single possession down the floor.
Boston have four or five multi-positional defenders who can switch assignments without mismatches being created. Robert Williams’ shot blocking protects the rim and anchors the team’s defense. The last piece in Boston’s puzzle is Al Horford.
Al Horford played 28 games in Oklahoma City but he was an excellent veteran for a young team to have. Horford’s communication organised the Thunder’s defense and made the game simple for his teammates.
His steady flow of information means that his teammates can make better decisions and can be more confident on the defensive end of floor. They do not need to worry about where the threat is coming from if Horford is constantly calling out the danger. Horford is playing the same role for the Celtics this year and is the key reason why their defense looks rock solid.
I do not expect the Thunder to win tonight but I would like to see Darius Bazley and Aleksej Pokusevski continue their rich run of form. They both have a brilliant opportunity to prove their worth to the Thunder with OKC’s core guys being injured.