The Boston Celtics just can't catch a break, can they?
Two days after Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs invaded (and conquered) TD Garden, the Celtics will have to deal with a different two-headed monster -- Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook -- as the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder visit the Celtics on Friday night.
Duncan and Parker are tough players to neutralize in their own right -- a task Boston could not accomplish, by the way -- but with Durant and Westbrook, it's an entirely different ball game. Durant's scoring hasn't been on par with what it has been in the past three years, averaging 25.4 points in 12 games, but he has stepped up his game on the boards, averaging a career-best 10.1 rebounds. Of Durant's ten boards per game, 9.3 have come on the defensive glass -- a bad sign for a Celtics team that has been woefully horrendous on the offensive boards. To top it all off, Durant is shooting nearly 50 percent (49.8), slightly better than he shot one season ago.
Westbrook's numbers have been holding steady this season as well, as the fifth-year guard from California is posting averages of 20.8 points, 8.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds. His shooting percentage is a ways off from the mark he posted last year, shooting a few ticks about 40 percent, but he has still managed to be his usual effective self.
Durant and Westbrook are the ring leaders, but Oklahoma City's offense has been very dominant through the early stages of the season, averaging 103.0 points per night (second in the NBA). That certainly spells trouble for Boston, which has uncharacteristically struggled on the defensive end in 2012-13, giving up 99.3 points per tilt (19th in NBA).
The challenge will be stopping Durant and Westbrook above all else, but the Thunder go four deep as far as scoring threats are concerned. James Harden no longer rules the Oklahoma City bench, but Kevin Martin (17.8 PPG) and Serge Ibaka (14.7 PPG) are capable of burning the defensively-challenged Celts.
Boston enters Friday's contest with a 6-6 record, placing them fourth in the Atlantic Division. The Celtics have now dropped back-to-back contests after earning wins in six of eight games before that. An eye-rolling 103-83 loss to the Detroit Pistons gave way to a closely contested 112-100 defeat at the hands of the Spurs. Boston allowed Parker to score a season-high 26 points while Duncan calmly collected 20 points and 15 rebounds. Rajon Rondo logged a nice night on the scorer's sheet, finishing with 22 points and 15 assists while Paul Pierce scored 19 and Kevin Garnett totaled 14 points but only three rebounds. With the 20-assist night, Rondo extended his streak of games with double-digit assists to 35, the third longest streak of all time.
Oklahoma City is a league-best 9-3, tying them with San Antonio for the best record in the Western Conference and all of the NBA. After winning six of eight games to open the campaign, the Thunder fell to the surging Memphis Grizzlies, but have rebounded nicely with three consecutive victories. OKC's last win came against the Los Angeles Clippers, 117-111 in overtime, with Durant scoring 35 and grabbing 12 boards, Westbrook adding 23 points and nine assists and Martin scoring 20.
Friday's game is the first of two meetings this year between the teams.
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