Celtics-Thunder preview: C's must play 'smart' defense

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Celtics-Thunder preview: C's must play 'smart' defense

BOSTON There appears to be a one-size-fits-all solution to the Boston Celtics' biggest problem right now, which is figuring out how to squeeze a few more wins under their belt.

The numbers don't lie.

Holding opponents to less than a 100 points is as close as there is to a guaranteed C's win.

Boston comes into tonight's game against Oklahoma City as a .500 team with a record of 6-6.

But in games in which their opponent has scored less than 100 points, the Celtics are an impressive 6-1.

That has a nice ring to it, huh?

It sounds pretty easy to do as well.

But when it comes to the Boston Celtics this season, nothing is nearly as simple or easy to come by as it might appear to be.

Boston has lost three of its last four games, giving up triple digit points in each defeat.

And for all the talent Danny Ainge assembled this summer, this group for whatever reasons is just not clicking defensively.

"We pride ourselves on defense," said Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. "And we're just not getting it done."

The C's are having the kind of defensive breakdowns and miscommunications that you seldom see from a Doc Rivers-coached team, even this early in the season.

Rivers is doing his best to put on a brave face and not let the defensive problems sour his mood too much, or come across as though it's something he's extremely worried about.

He reiterates that the issue isn't so much effort as much as it is execution.

"We've got to do our coverages better; bottom line," Rivers said. "(Talk about playing) harder and all that, that sounds great. That's what everyone says when you lose; 'you've got to play harder.' Well, we've got to play smarter, we have to know our coverages better, and when that happens everybody is on the same page and it allows our rotations to be freer, it allows our bigs to get back to the paint."

Keeping a scoring lid of sorts on Oklahoma City - the league's No. 2 scoring club averaging 103 points per game - will be important in Boston's quest to get back on a winning track. Here are a few other keys to victory for the C's.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Thunder are used to jumping on teams and not looking back. They average 26.3 points scored in the first quarter this season which is the fifth-highest scoring average in the league, while limiting opponents to just 21.8 points.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Russell Westbrook: Both are among the NBA's best point guards, while getting the job done in their own unique but highly effective way. Rondo and the C's are doing their best to take some of the attention off his double-digit assists streak which is a good thing considering the C's are a .500 club and all the talk should be more about winning than ways in which Rondo can continue to rack up 10 or more assists every night.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce needs to play better in every sense of the word if the C's are to have any shot against the Thunder. Scoring will be important, but his defense against Kevin Durant and rebounding might be even more valuable. The Celtics are coming off a loss to San Antonio in which Pierce scored 19 points while not hauling in a single rebound. It was only the sixth time in his career he scored 15 or more points without a single rebound to his name.

STAT TO TRACK: Keeping the Thunder off the free throw line will be one of the more difficult challenges for the Celtics. Oklahoma City shoots an NBA-best 84.4 percent from the line, and have shot 80 percent or better from the line in each of the last three seasons. Even more impressive is they also lead the NBA in free throws made per game (23.4) and rank second in attempts (27.8).

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