By Randy Renner
The Thunder have a been a streaky team so far this season, a three game winning streak to start the season followed up with a three game losing skid and now another three game winning streak.
Tonight the Boston Celtics, who’ve won three of their last four, will come calling hoping to stop OKC’s latest streak.
One thing that has certainly contributed to the winning ways lately is the Thunder’s new found ability to take good care of the basketball. Early in the season, during both the first winning streak and the losing, the Thunder turned the ball over at an alarming rate, more than 20 a game, to lead the NBA in that dubious stat.
But lately the Thunder have altered their giving mood.
“We’ve done a good job the last five games taking care of the basketball,” head coach Billy Donovan said after Saturday’s practice.
The Thunder haven’t turned the ball over more than 15 times in those games but they will face a strern test of their renewed ball security tonight. The Celtics lead the NBA in steals and opponent turnovers.
“They’re a team that is forcing about 20 turnovers per game,” Donovan pointed out. “Their guards do a really good job of getting into the ball. They’re a high deflection team. They create a lot of steals and open floor situations.”
Former OSU All-American Marcus Smart loves to battle other guards for the ball. Smart is back in Boston’s lineup at shooting guard after missing a couple of games with a sprained toe. He’s averaging 9.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.
The Celtics also feature a pretty balanced offensive attack with eight players averaging at least 8.3 points a game but only one averaging more than 12. That would be dynamic, mighty-mite point guard Isaiah Thomas, who at 5-9 will give up about six inches in height to Russell Westbrook.
“(Thomas) gets a lot of shots up at the rim in transition,” Donovan continued. “They really run and this will be a little bit of a different game. We’ve played against some stretch fours, but we haven’t played against teams maybe that have stretch-5’s. When they move (Jared) Sullinger or (Kelly) Olynyk to the five (center), they’re playing with five 3-point shooters and the floor is really spaced. We’ll have to do a really good job of identifying how the floor is moving, where rotations are going to come from and where our help is going to come from.”
Of course the other side of that is when the Celtics go to that type of setup they lose a lot of beef inside and will have a difficult time going up against the likes of Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams who have helped the Thunder lead the NBA in blocked shots.
It should be an interesting contrast in styles.
Donovan did not tip has hand during Saturday’s media session about possibly changing up his starting lineup or again going with Anthony Morrow at shooting guard and Andre Roberson at Kevin Durant’s small forward position.
Morrow responded well to the starting nod, scoring a season-high 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting and last season against the Celtics Morrow was blistering hot scoring a combined 48 points on 67 percent shooting on the two games.
Judging by what Billy D has done so far, he won’t shy away from changing things up depending on how he believes the Celtics will start the game and what matchups will work out in OKC’s favor.
The Thunder have won five straight and eight of the last nine against Boston, including four straight wins in Oklahoma City.
Tipoff is set for 6:10 tonight on Fox Sports Oklahoma. As always we’ll have live updates on our Twitter feed page so be sure to check that out.