Date: March 8, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 5 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
After a dominating performance against the Knicks in New York City, the Thunder travel from one garden to the next. This time its Boston’s TD Garden where OKC will take on the Celtics in another early Sunday matchup.
The Thunder will look to carry over its impressive offensive performance from Friday’s rout of the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Outside of taking care of the ball and shooting at a high clip, players were in constant motion without the ball. Backdoor cuts and extra passes epitomized the Thunder’s mantra of ball movement and player movement. It’s a performance they’ll look to replicate against a versatile Celtics defense.
“We had to read our man. The way the Knicks were playing defense, we had a lot of opportunities to cut so that’s what we did,” said Luguentz Dort.
After dropping their third straight game at home, Boston is currently riding its longest home losing streak since the 2018 season. On Friday, the shorthanded Celtics, playing without Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown, fell to Utah 99-94.
Boston’s defense causes the most trouble among its opponents as the team ranks fourth in the league in offensive rating and eighth in steals per game. Players like Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum defend the frontline while big men Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter protect the paint.
When playing against top defensive teams, it has been key for the Thunder to play with pace and tempo, not allowing the defense to get set before initiating its offense. Look for OKC to push the ball up the floor quickly in transition and get the ball from one side of the floor to the next.
“Really stick to our offense, share the ball and play together,” said Dort. “They’re a really good team but at the same time, we’ve got to think about how we’re going to get to where we can score and how we’re going to beat them.”
Leading the Boston scorebooks is Jayson Tatum who averages 23.5 points per game. At 6-foot-8 with point-guard like abilities, Tatum presents a matchup focus for Thunder perimeter players. Although in some cases, the Thunder may be undersized on the perimeter, the key will be not to get screened and to not work alone. Against the Knicks, the Thunder showed that hit can send two to the ball while also getting out quickly to the perimeter for a strong contest. Having that in its back pocket will be beneficial going up against Tatum who can dish out as easily as he can score.
“It’s the same things going up against any great player, you can’t just do it with one person, we’ve got to do it together as a team and we’ve got to help each other,” said Donovan.
Turnovers OKC committed only four turnovers on Friday against the Knicks which tied for a season low and marks only the fourth game in OKC history with four or fewer turnovers. However, the last time Boston and OKC met, the Thunder allowed 21 points off of turnovers which played a significant role in the flow of the game.
“We’ve got to obviously take care of the ball, I think every game for us that’s really important,” said Donovan. “They’re a team that has great versatility defensively, a lot of length physically so certainly on the road again taking care of the ball will be really important.”
In the Thunder’s matchup with the Knicks on Friday, the connection between Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari was on full display especially in the fourth quarter when Paul found his teammate for a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers. The sharp-shooting illustrated only a small portion of Gallinari’s recent trend of prolific scoring from behind the arc.
Over the past five games, Gallinari has averaged 20.8 points on 46 percent shooting from the 3-point line. He also marked his 36th game this season with three or more 3-pointers made and his fifth consecutive.