By Ryan Costello
Guess which NBA club these rankings are for: 28th in shooting percentage (41.3%), 30th in three-point shooting (19.1%), 30th in assists per game (14.4), 24th in opponent points per game (106.4), and 28th in opponent field goal shooting (48.3%).
No, these aren’t that stats for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the winless Houston Rockets, or any of the association’s cellar dwelling clubs.
That riot report is the one attached to the somehow 3-2 Oklahoma City Thunder.
The three wins haven’t been over the easiest competition, either. Sure, Detroit’s no powerhouse, but Derrick Rose and the Bulls, and most recently the Portland Trailblazers in the Rose Garden on the second half of a road back-to-back? Not exactly the types of games a team dwelling near the bottom of so many statistical categories would be expected to win.
It doesn’t help the stats sheet that their two losses have come by a combined 36 points, and OKC does have one redeeming number in their favor; in their three wins, the Thunder has outscored their opponents by an impressive 20 points in the fourth quarter.
But now, the young rumbling Thunder have a new guest to welcome to Oklahoma City Arena, and despite naysayers who would contend that the incoming Celtics would be hamstrung by a geriatric lineup, Boston is again seated at the front of the class in the Eastern Conference.
The last time Thunder fans welcomed the mean green into Oklahoma City, the Celtics hung a 105-87 shellacking on their home team on December 4, 2009. Ask head coach Scott Brooks, he remembers.
“That was one of the best games I’ve ever seen a team play against us. They beat us pretty easily,” Brooks admitted. “They put on a clinic on both ends. They guard you as well as anybody and they move the ball as well as anyone in the league. That’s why they’ve been in two NBA Finals in the last three years.”
The Celtics shot 56.5% from the field, forced 16 Thunder turnovers, and limited Oklahoma City to 17.6% from beyond the three-point line. An eerily similar stat line to Thunder’s struggles in 2010.
But the December debacle wasn’t the only matchup between OKC and Boston.
On March 31, the Thunder returned the favor in the hallowed halls of the Boston Garden behind Kevin Durant’s 37 points and eight rebounds, and after the game, Celtic forward Kevin Garnett referred to Durant as, “Michael ——- Jordan.”
“KG’s one of the top fifty greatest to ever play the game, so for him to say that about me is kind of flattering, you know?” Durant said through a wry smile.
Durant’s Jordan-like tendencies aside, in order for the Thunder to have any success against this season’s iteration of the Celtics, the 5-1 team that ranks seventh in the league in both points against per game (94.83) and opponent field goal percentage (43.6%), they’ll have to do what they did in March rather than December: outrun, outrebound, and get to the foul line.
Of course, continuing their habit of scoring on the high side of their opponents in the fourth quarter couldn’t hurt. When the Thunder defeated the Celtics in Boston last season, the two teams were in a dead heat going into the fourth quarter.