Blakely's Celtics-Thunder preview

Blakely's Celtics-Thunder preview
February 22, 2012, 10:11 pm
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OKLAHOMA CITY If you look at the Boston Celtics history on the road against the Thunder, you have to feel pretty good about their chances of winning tonight. Boston has won all three games in Oklahoma City since the team relocated from Seattle.

But history, while nice to reflect upon, won't do the C's a bit of good tonight. Not only do they face arguably the best team in the NBA, but they do with a depleted roster that's even more under-manned than usual.

How bad?

The Celtics' big man rotation consists of Kevin Garnett, Greg Stiemsma, JaJuan Johnson and . . . that's it!

Both Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) were sent home to see doctors, putting their return to the team following the all-star break, in doubt. The C's are also without Brandon Bass (left knee), who said he'll return to the lineup sometime after the all-star break.

With so few big bodies available, the Celtics will be hard-pressed to avoid foul trouble.

Rivers said things are trending towards the C's needing to go out and add another big man soon.

But Rivers is quick to caution that free agent centers at this stage of the season, can not be seen as a savior or anything like that.

"Listen, if there's a big out there, there's a reason he's out there," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I hate to say that, but that's the truth."

Not surprisingly, Rivers will play some zone defense tonight, probably more than usual.

"We're going to zone, we're going to go small, we're going to go big, "

Huh?

"Oh, we can't go big," Rivers quickly reminded himself and the media. "We're going to do whatever we think is required to win the game. It's not going to be traditional at times, and it can't be. It's not like we have a choice."

Junkin' up the game, as coaches like to call it, will certainly be one of the Celtics' goals as they try to salvage what's left of their pre-all star break road trip against the Thunder.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Kevin Durant in full-blown attack mode. Although he's proven to be an excellent perimeter shooter, don't be surprised to see him look to drive the ball more to the basket in an attempt to not just score, but get the Thunder in the bonus early. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has no grand visions of stopping Durant. "If you try and make a special defense for Durant, he's still probably going to score 30," Rivers said. "At the end of the day with Durant, you do your defense. If he makes shots, he makes shots. If he doesn't, he doesn't." Durant comes into tonight's game as the NBA's No. 2 scorer, averaging 27.7 points per game

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Avery Bradley vs Russell Westbrook: With Rajon Rondo (suspension) out, Avery Bradley will once again get the starting nod. With teams doubling Paul Pierce and Ray Allen every time they touch the ball, Bradley will likely have a ton of good-looking shot opportunities. "I gotta help my team out any way I can," Bradley said. "If that's me being aggressive one night, or if that's me getting us in sets one night, I'll try and do whatever." Westbrook will be a handful, for sure. Not only has he improved his jump-shot, but his speed and power gets him to the free throw line a lot. Westbrook has been to the free throw line 188 times this season which ranks 10th in the NBA. "Westbrook is a foul magnet," Rivers said. "He gets into your body. I wouldn't be surprised if Avery was in foul trouble most of the game."

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett returns after missing two games to attend to a personal family matter. With the Celtics so short-handed in the frontcourt, whatever success they enjoy around the basket will likely be generated by Garnett the scorer, or Garnett the passer. And while his minutes will still be monitored closely, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he plans to let him play a little longer than usual tonight. "We'll up his minutes by five minutes," Rivers said. "He's usually at 30. Today he'll play 35."

STAT TO TRACK -- One of the best shots the Celtics have of pulling off the upset, will be to generate points from the miscues made by Oklahoma City. For all that the Thunder do well, turnovers remain a major weakness. They commit 17.1 turnovers per game, more than any other team in the NBA. A lot of that has to do with point guard Russell Westbrook, who is committing an NBA-high 4.3 turnovers per game. Teammate Kevin Durant isn't too far behind, with 3.7 turnovers per game that ranks 7th in the NBA. They are the only team with two players ranked in the top 10 in that category.