Celtics-Thunder Preview


Although Jeff Green has gone through some trying times since arriving in Boston, he appears to be in a very good place ahead of his return to Oklahoma City.

The Celtics are also feeling great following five straight victories, but they'll face a major challenge keeping that run going Sunday against a Thunder team that's within striking distance of the top spot in the Western Conference.

Green will finally make his first appearance in Oklahoma City since the Thunder traded him to the Celtics in the Kendrick Perkins deal Feb. 24, 2011. The forward missed all of last season following open heart surgery to address an aortic aneurysm.

He has returned to make a strong contribution for Boston (34-27) in 2012-13, playing especially well during the Celtics' recent surge. Green is averaging 14.7 points on 50.5 percent shooting during a 14-4 stretch - coinciding with the absence of injured point guard Rajon Rondo - that has put the team in the hunt for a top-four seed in the East.

Green had the game-winning layup late in Wednesday's 83-81 victory at Indiana, and his 3-pointer in overtime helped Boston beat Atlanta 107-102 on Friday.

"We just continue to fight. In the stretch run of the season, every game is crucial," said Paul Pierce, who had 27 points, seven assists and seven rebounds against the Hawks. "Between the fourth and eighth spot, it's a difference between one or two games, so all these games are big and we understand the sense of urgency."

Oklahoma City (46-16) is chasing San Antonio for the No. 1 seed in the West. If the Thunder win this game, they would have a chance to pull even with the Spurs with a victory Monday night in San Antonio.

They've won four straight and seven of eight, and they had a chance to get their stars some rest during Friday's 116-94 rout at Charlotte. No Thunder player logged more than 25 minutes as the team built a 29-point lead and cruised.

That was especially crucial after Oklahoma City went down to the wire in a 95-94 win at New York the previous night.

"It's good to get some rest," Kevin Durant said. "That's good to get you re-energized for the next game. But it's also good that we have such a deep team."

The Thunder will be looking to avenge a 108-100 loss in Boston on Nov. 23, when Pierce had 27 points and Green added 17 in his first-ever game against Oklahoma City.

Jason Terry scored 16 on 6-of-8 shooting for the Celtics that night. He's averaging 18.2 points on 50.0 percent shooting in his last six games against the Thunder, the first five with Dallas.

Terry has had a somewhat uneven first season in Boston, but he came up big Friday with 19 points - including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 35 seconds left in overtime.

"We count on him late in games," Pierce said. "Even if he doesn't get the shot, he's such a threat late in games that you can't come off of him. He's hit so many big shots throughout his career. He understands the moment and that's why he's here."

Durant has hit 58 of 60 free-throw attempts in his last six games against Boston, averaging 32.0 points in that stretch and scoring at least 28 in each game. Russell Westbrook, though, led the Thunder with 31 in their 119-104 home win over Boston last season, the Celtics' first road loss in this series since a 2006 defeat in Seattle.