With Sunday afternoon action on ABC in full swing, it’s time for another quality double-header for your viewing pleasure. The opening game is highlighted by the offensively electric Thunder squaring off against the (suddenly) defensively dominant Celtics.
Let’s take a look at what to expect from this match-up.
Boston Offense vs. Oklahoma City Defense
The face-off between Boston’s offense and Oklahoma City’s defense is sure to be overshadowed by the much “sexier” match-up on the other side of the court, but that doesn’t make it any less crucial.
With Rajon Rondo out for the season with a torn ACL, Boston has turned to an unconventional offensive strategy of basically going without a point guard in favor of a free-wheeling system, and the results have been better. Since the Rondo injury, the team’s offensive efficiency has increased slightly (102.6 PPP since the injury vs. 100.5 for the full season), and while Rondo is a singular talent, the supporting cast has performed at a higher level.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are the key to any discussion surrounding the Boston offense, but each guy draws a difficult match-up from OKC. Pierce will likely draw the attention of Thabo Sefolosha and/or Kevin Durant for the bulk of the game, and both players present problems. Sefolosha is one of the league’s best wing defenders who focuses almost entirely on defensive output (the reason he’s employed, honestly), while Durant’s excessive length could present issues for Pierce’s athletically challenged game.
Garnett squares off with Serge Ibaka in a old-school/new-school battle that should draw eyeballs. Ibaka is one of the league’s best shot-blockers, but Garnett will pull him away from the rim with deadly 18-footers, and that should open up the paint a bit for the Boston guards. In the end, Boston probably won’t “win” this side of the court in this game, but they will certainly need to put up some offense in order to keep up with the league’s best scoring team in OKC.
Oklahoma City Offense vs. Boston Defense
As mentioned above, the Oklahoma City offense is currently leading the league in efficiency (110.9 points per 100 possessions) and they are running on all cylinders right now. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are 1st and 6th respectively in scoring, and when you add in a supporting cast (Kevin Martin, Serge Ibaka) of capable offensive players, it gets scary in a hurry. Fortunately for Boston, they match-up pretty well on the defensive end. Since the aforementioned Rondo injury (at the end of January), the Celtics are #2 in the league in defense, allowing under 97 points per 100 possessions, and they’ve done so behind some unique defensive talent.
Avery Bradley will likely draw the Russell Westbrook assignment, and Bradley has made a name for himself with his recent defensive play. I’m frankly excited to see the best on-ball defender in the NBA face-off against the bull-like tenacity of Westbrook over long periods of minutes. As for Durant, he’ll likely see a combination of former teammate Jeff Green (who is playing fantastic basketball right now) and Paul Pierce, and that’s not an easy match either.
Candidly, this is the much, much more intriguing of the team-vs-team battles, and with how Boston is playing defensively right now, there isn’t a much better test for them than the vaunted OKC offense.
Match-up to Watch - Kevin Durant vs. Paul Pierce
Another “old school” vs. “new school” reference is too easy, but also true. Kevin Durant isn’t the flashiest guy in the league, but he’s the best scorer in basketball who is capable of scoring in just about every way possible. He’s on track for a season where he shoots 50+% from the field, 40+% from three, and 90+% from the line. Now, read that sentence again. He’s insanely impressive on the offensive end, and as a blossoming defense player who uses his length very well while rebounding at a high rate, he’s a complete player.
As for Pierce, he’s not “loved” around the NBA’s fan base due to his “old man” game, but he’s still one of the best scorers in the league, and an effective go-to player in big-time spots. As stated above, he probably won’t get the majority of the defensive assignment on Durant, but in small spurts, his brute strength could force KD away from the rim, and make him a contested jump shooter.
At any rate, this is a very, very entertaining square-off.
Because this game is in Oklahoma City, the Thunder are a significant favorite. They enter Sunday’s game with a 27-4 home record, and it would be difficult (if not impossible) to pick against them on their home floor. With that said, Boston is capable of putting together four defensive quarters that are on par with anyone in the league, and if they can limit at least one of the Westbrook/Durant duo, they’ll be in the game for 48 minutes.