Few expected the Celtics to do anything of significance when Gordon Hayward went down with a season-ending injury in their opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they’ve proved everybody wrong so far. Boston’s last win against the Sacramento Kings was their sixth consecutive victory and featured a beautiful exhibition of strong team play on both ends of the floor. Offensively, seven players scored in double figures, while on the other end of the floor the team held the Kings to only 43% shooting from the field and 30% shooting from deep. The Celtics are first in both points allowed and defensive efficiency as the young guns have used their elite defensive play to go top of the Eastern Conference.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have also been elite on the defensive end and sit third in points allowed and second in defensive efficiency. Having elite perimeter defenders in Andre Robertson and Paul George, plus a tough interior defender in Steven Adams, has helped the Thunder be a strong defensive team this season. Oklahoma have won three of their last four games, including an impressive 110-91 win in their last game against the Bucks in Milwaukee. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo scored double-digit points as the Thunder again showed their defensive prowess.
Keys to the game
Defense – It’s no surprise that this will be a key aspect to this game, with the number one and two defenses going head-to-head on Friday night. Expect a tenacious battle between the young guns of the Celtics and the veteran defenders of OKC.
Transition play – The Celtics are in the top ten in rebounding in the league, and can push up the floor with ease with their speed and athleticism. The OKC defense has to limit fastbreak points if they are to avoid a home loss.
Turnovers – Both teams have been great defensively, but are around the middle of the pack in turnovers. Protecting the ball is particularly important in this matchup.
Matchup to watch
Russell Westbrook vs Kyrie Irving – This may be one of the most exciting point guard duels of the season. Westbrook may not need to score 30 points a game anymore, but is still flirting with another triple-double season average, posting 19.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 11.7 assists so far. Kyrie has stepped up in Hayward’s absence, and will look to take over this game against a formidable opponent.
Boston Celtics projected lineup
PG – Kyrie Irving | SG – Jaylen Brown | SF – Jayson Tatum | PF – Al Horford | C – Aron Baynes |
Oklahoma City Thunder projected lineup
PG – Russell Westbrook | SG – Andre Robertson | SF – Paul George | PF – Carmelo Anthony | C – Steven Adams |
Westbrook has been superb this season. With more pieces on the floor, he’s had to carry the offense less and is also getting cleaner looks with defenders having more threats to focus on. This has shown in his shooting percentages as Westbrook has shot close to 50% from the field and 42% from long range in his last five. There’s no reason why he can’t have a repeat performance in this game on Friday night.
The over/under is 205, but the shots will be flowing for both teams in this game, so going over could be the smart play.
The Celtics have definitely shown fans and naysayers alike that they can still be a top team in the East without Hayward, but OKC will have too much in the tank for them on Friday night. The Thunder takes the game in a tight one.
The game will be shown on ESPN and Fox Sports Oklahoma. UK viewers can also catch the game on BT Sport. Tip-off is at 9:30 pm ET.
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