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Friday, November 23, 2012
W2W4: Celtics vs. Thunder (Game 13 of 82)

By Chris Forsberg

Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesRajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook renew acquaintances at TD Garden on Friday.
The Boston Celtics (6-6, 3-3 home) host the Oklahoma City Thunder (9-3, 3-1 away) on Friday night at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:

* TRADING PLACES: Naturally, much of the pregame hype will center on Jeff Green and Kendrick Perkins, two of the players swapped at the 2011 trade deadline. After sitting out all of last season, Green has yet to face his former team and -- downplay it as he might -- there will be extra emotions here. The same goes for Perkins, a core member of Boston's 2008 championship team, who was serenaded with an emotional tribute video when he returned for the first time last year. Both teams have certainly moved on from the deal -- both Perkins and Green signing long-term deals with their new squads -- but the history adds a layer of intrigue to the matchup.

* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: The Thunder are the typical offensive blur. Not only is Oklahoma City the third-ranked offense in the league, averaging a stellar 0.996 points per play according to Synergy Sports data, but they are the league's top transition team as that number ballons to 1.392 points per play. The Thunder want to run and they are still one of the league's best spot-up shooting teams when you force them into a halfcourt set. Not only are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the charge as usual, but Kevin Martin -- acquired from Houston in the James Harden swap -- is one of the league's most efficient scorers, averaging 1.251 points per play and ranking in the 99th percentile among all NBA players. Defensively, the Thunder are middle of the pack (0.896 points per play, 16th overall) and struggle in transition (1.279 points per play, 27th), but they defend well in the halfcourt set (both limiting the pick-and-roll, and protecting the basket with a backline of Serge Ibaka and Perkins). The Celtics absolutely don't want to engage in a shootout, but they must be willing to run when they force stops.

* CELTICS NEED THIS ONE: Celtics captain Paul Pierce talked about a need for Boston to play with some additional fire despite an inconsistent start. Torched defensively the last two games, Pierce wants to see the Celtics regain their defensive identity and play a more familiar brand of gritty basketball. And let's face it, Boston is in danger of dipping below .500 with a loss Friday and that's not the direction this team wants to be headed in. A victory Friday could give the Celtics a much-needed jolt of momentum and confidence.

* EYES ON THE DEFENSE: Torched for triple digits in five of their six losses (and giving up 99 points in the other), the Thunder and their high-octane offense are the last team Boston wants to see on Friday. That said, it's an excellent challenge for the Celtics and a chance to reassert themselves. The Celtics have to eliminate the mistakes that have plagued them in recent games (their help defense abused by dribble penetration and opponents attacking in the pick-and-roll). As Pierce suggested, the Boston defense needs a little bit of extra fire on the court on Friday night.