By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Coming out of Monday’s Blazers blowout everyone is asking the same question...can the Thunder play like that again, consistently?
The first test is tonight, on the road, in Boston where the Celtics have won 14 of their last 15. That 15th game though was Friday night when the Houston Rockets ruined the C’s home streak by beating them 102-98. Even worse for Boston, the Celtics lost forward Jae Crowder who’s become a mainstay after being traded from Dallas, to a high ankle sprain.
Crowder won’t play tonight and his absence hurts Boston. Forward Kelly Olynyk is questionable as he recovers from a sprained shoulder. The Celtics played without both last night in Indiana and lost 103-98 to the Pacers.
The Thunder will have Dion Waiters available, he rejoined the team during Monday’s game with Portland, but coach Billy Donovan said he will likely try to ease Waiters back into the rotation.
Waiters told reporters at shootaround today in Boston that he’s still struggling emotionally with the loss of his brother Demetrius, who was shot to death in Philadelphia.
“I probably haven’t cried like that since I lost my cousin,” Waiters said.
The Thunder guard has lived through a lot of tragedy growing up on the streets of Philly. “You know I lost three cousins and my best friend so this is like a replay. Every time something is going good, going great, there’s always something to remind you that it’s reality. I probably won’t be happy for a while, long time probably. I feel as though I could have done something differently.”
Getting his mind back on basketball might be the best thing for Waiters but who knows how he’ll play and how distracted he might be.
The rest of the team has been troubled by tragedy too the last few weeks but they certainly seemed to have their focus right against the Trail Blazers.
The last time the Thunder played the Celtics they lost in OKC 100-85 when former OSU star Marcus Smart went off for 26 points, tying a career-high.
Smart hasn’t been as prolific lately, shooting just 30.6 percent overall and going 4-for-23 on threes over his last five games.
"We missed a lot of open shots," Smart said after the Indiana loss. "It was just one of those games. Guys that normally knock down the shots we that were getting couldn't knock them down."
When Smart was knocking down just about everything he put up in Oklahoma City earlier in the season he was doing much of it while being defended by Russell Westbrook. Chances are Russ will try to shut things down for Smart this time around.
Also that night the Thunder shot just 36.4 percent. But now they’re coming off their best shooting night of the season when they hit 59 percent of their shots against Portland.
And Kevin Durant will play tonight, remember he missed that first Boston game with a strained hamstring. Durant has scored at least 20 points in 52 straight games and without Crowder to guard him KD could be in line for a big night.
Someone else who could show up big is backup center Enes Kanter. The Celtics don’t have a dominant center and Kanter has been on fire lately averaging 17.2 points while shooting a blistering 69.4 percent over his last five games. During that same time he’s also averaged almost 12 rebounds.
So far this month Kanter leads the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating with a whopping 32.8. On the season he’s up to 4th in shooting percentage in the NBA at 57.4 and he leads all bench players with 7.7 rebounds a game.
As Westbrook campaigns for him as Sixth Man of the Year more and more people are starting to pay attention and those numbers are getting harder and harder to ignore.
This is a big game tonight for OKC, the Celtics are solid and playing well but the Thunder can take advantage of the absences of Crowder and Olynyk.
And they need to because they need to start showing folks and especially themselves they can string together a series of good games, not just one once in awhile.
Tipoff is set for tonight at 6:10 and you can see it on either Fox Sports Oklahoma or ESPN. The team’s road trip continues Friday in Philadelphia and Saturday at Indiana.