Celtics to host Thunder, awaiting return to health
The last time the Boston Celtics faced the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Celtics were rolling right along.
But since that 112-111 road win Feb. 9 that extended Boston’s winning streak to seven, things have been a struggle for the Celtics.
The Celtics are 5-5 since, including dropping three of their last four heading into Sunday’s home game against the Thunder.
Marcus Smart was disappointed yet resolute after Boston’s loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday.
“We’re going to figure it out,” the Celtics’ sixth-year guard said.
The time to do that, though, is narrowing with just 20 games left to play.
Smart tried to be positive about the Celtics’ recent struggles, though he also had some pointed criticism, saying he disagreed with coach Brad Stevens’ assessment that effort wasn’t the issue, using an expletive to describe the effort.
“We gave them the first couple punches and then, after that, our effort died down,” Smart said. “We picked it up toward the end, but it was too late at that time.”
Boston’s only win in the last four came over the woebegone Cleveland Cavaliers.
Stevens said he thought one of the major issues came down to being healthy.
Kemba Walker has been on a minutes restriction since returning from missing five games due to left knee soreness.
Both Jaylen Brown (hamstring) and Gordon Hayward (right knee) have missed the last two games and are expected to be out again Sunday, though Stevens left the door open to Hayward’s return.
“That’s the way the league works,” Stevens said. “You play as well as you can.”
Walker said he was hopeful the minutes restriction would soon be lifted.
“I’m just coming in and out the game pretty fast,” Walker said. “Just gotta keep working through it and trying my hardest not to frustrate myself.”
After Sunday’s game, the Celtics will play seven of their next nine games away from home.
The game is the last in a three-game road trip for the Thunder, who have won at the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks in their two previous outings.
Oklahoma City has won 11 of its last 12 on the road, with its only loss during the streak — which started in the first week of January – coming against the Bucks in Milwaukee.
After dropping their first six games away from home to start the season, the Thunder are 19-5 on the road.
“We’ve got to keep it moving,” Thunder point guard Chris Paul said.
While the Celtics have been banged up lately, Oklahoma City has enjoyed a period of relative health.
Rookie forward Darius Bazley hasn’t played since the last meeting with the Celtics, missing 10 consecutive games with a bone bruise in his right knee. He’s not far from a possible return, though he won’t play Sunday.
Everyone else that’s played this season has been healthy recently.
“We’ve got basically 20 auditions before the playoffs,” Paul said. “We’ve got to start building the right habits and making sure we’re ready for the stretch run.”
–Field Level Media