NBA

Boston Celtics vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 23:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder holds the ball in front of Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics during the game on November 23, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2013

Two of the league's most popular teams will take center stage on Sunday as the Boston Celtics travel to Oklahoma City to take on Kevin Durant and the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The two teams haven't met since November when the veteran Celtics edged out the Thunder, 108-100 in a high-scoring affair. 

Of course, that was when the Celtics still had point guard Rajon Rondo. The Celtics lost Rondo to a torn ACL in January, but have surprisingly put together one of the league's best records since losing him. 

The Thunder are one of the league's best teams and will be looking for a win to draw even closer to the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. Here's a closer look at this marquee weekend matchup. 

 

When: Sunday, March 10 at 1:00 p.m. ET

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Okla.

Watch: ABC

 

Celtics Injury Report (via USA Today as of March 8, 2013)

G Paul Pierce, Probable, Knee

G Rajon Rondo, Out, Knee

F Jared Sullinger, Out, Back

 

Thunder Injury Report (via USA Today as of March 8, 2013)

G Russell Westbrook, Probable, Ankle

 

Key Storyline: Can the Celtics stay hot without Rondo?

 

Simply put, the Boston Celtics just don't make any sense right now. 

They lost their best player in Rondo and responded by going 14-4 in their next 18 games without him. Whether or not the Celtics can continue to win at this clip remains the biggest question surrounding the team right now. 

How they perform against an elite Oklahoma City team that boasts a nearly perfect home record of 27-4 will be a huge indicator for the rest of the season.

Rondo was certainly a big-time factor against the Thunder earlier in the season. He had eight points, eight rebounds and 16 assists to lead the Celtics to victory. 

The Celts have been able to deal with the loss of Rondo to this point, but it's a matchup like this that will truly test if this team can play at an elite level without him.

 

Key Matchup: Paul Pierce vs. Kevin Durant

These two veteran forwards went score-for-score in their last matchup, and that was a huge reason that the Celtics were able to pull off the win. 

Not many forwards can keep up with Durant's scoring abilities, but the aging Pierce still has it in him when he's on. In their November matchup he went for 27 points on 8-of-16 shooting while Durant put up 29 points on 9-of-20 shooting. 

Without Rondo's facilitating, the Celtics will rely on Pierce to create opportunities for himself and others off the dribble. He must be able to maintain his role as a scorer and leader on the offensive end, while serving as the primary defender against Durant on the other end. 

It won't be easy, but Pierce must have one of his best games of the season if the Celtics are going to have a shot at upsetting the Thunder on the road. 

 

Prediction

The Celtics are playing some great basketball as of late, but the momentum will only take them so far in Oklahoma City. 

Not only is Kevin Durant doing Kevin Durant things all the time and averaging 27.3 points per game, but Russell Westbrook has been unconscious lately, averaging 29 points and six assists per contest in his last 10 games. 

Throw in the fact that Thunder have been nearly unbeatable at home and this is their game to lose. The Celtics have shown a ton of resolve this season. They can't be counted out of any one game, but it's going to take a lot more than just grit and toughness to win this one. 

Unless Pierce gets hot, the duo of Westbrook and Durant will be too much for the C's.

Thunder 105—Celtics 100


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