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Rajon Rondo vs. Russell Westbrook -- one key matchup in Monday's game.Kendrick Perkins returns to Boston for the first time since being dealt away last February as his Thunder (11-2, 5-1 away) visit the Celtics (4-7, 3-3 home) at TD Garden (8 p.m., TNT). We go 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb to preview Monday's game:
1. We already know he's going to get a ridiculous ovation and probably a JumboTron salute during an early timeout. But what will Kendrick Perkins stat line look like?
Payne: Perk is known for his defense and he won't break away from his reputation tonight. He'll come through with a solid effort defensively for Oklahoma City, and seeing as anyone can score in the paint against Boston these days, don't be shocked if Perkins also contributes eight to 10 points. I think he'll flirt with a double-double by gobbling up seven or eight rebounds, and he'll also block a few shots. Final line: 9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 illegal screen, and 26 scowls.
Robb: Let's go with 4 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers (1 moving pick), and a technical foul -- just to make the Garden nostalgic. Perk will also hit both free throw attempts, as he has put together an incredible 77.8 free throw shoot percentage through the young season, which will further the calls from the Boston faithful around the Garden that, "We should have never traded you Perk!"
Forsberg: Only one moving screen?! Really? Have you guys totally forgotten how Perk operates in the last 11 months? The guy once had his Basketball Reference page sponsored by a non-Celtics fan just to jab him about his penchant for moving screens. The real question is how many of those bone-jarring screens he'll set on best buddy Rajon Rondo (I don't think Perkins takes it easy on anyone). I think he'll have a quietly effective night. Let's go with 8 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks. Heck, all the cheers from the crowd might make it tough to scowl (but he'll find a way at times).
2. As much as we lament the trade, would Perkins really make that much of a difference on this year's team?
Payne: Yes, mainly because Perk was integral to the identity and the attitude the Celtics had prior to that trade, and they're sorely lacking both right now. With all of this losing going on, Perkins would be one of the first to stand up and start calling people out, demanding improvements. And on top of that, I think that whole unit just took this great comfort in playing with one another, and the second that was taken away, things weren't ever going to be quite the same, and I think we're still seeing a few of those ripple effects. So would Perk be able to help this year's club? Absolutely.
Robb: I think he would have, given the team's rebounding and defensive issues. Perk's rebounding rate is actually below his career average so far this year. However, his career numbers are tremendous in that department and I think it's safe to say most people (Celtics included) would rather have the continuity and knowledge of the C's system that Kendrick provides, as well as his effort on the glass instead of what Jermaine O'Neal has offered this season. Would Boston be 7-4 with him right now? That's probably a reach, but given that this Celtics' roster is suppose to pride itself on defense, Perk is still a guy I would want out there right now.
Forsberg: This is a tough one for me. As important as Perkins was to this team, I'm not even he could have prevented what's gone on over the last 11 months (but it certainly didn't help matters, let's say that). Let's also remember, it wasn't like the Celtics were completely immune from losing streaks even with Perkins. Without a healthy Rondo against the Heat, Boston probably still falls in the second round, Perk or no Perk. This year? It's hard to imagine the Celtics would be much better than a .500 squad given their other faults thus far. And let's face it, Boston wasn't keen on paying Perkins, so he probably wasn't going to be here this season anyhow.
3. Prediction time: Do the Celtics have any chance in this one?
Payne: No, mainly because the Celtics have become a mediocre defensive team, and without the ability to string together four quarters of solid defense, they won't be able to slow down all the firepower the Thunder have. Paul Pierce is still playing his way into game shape, which doesn't bode well tonight, seeing as he's up against the locked and loaded Kevin Durant. Rajon Rondo won't have as much of an advantage in his matchup with Russell Westbrook as he's had against the second-tier point guards of the league. The only saving grace for the C's tonight might be the fact that the Thunder haven't been a great offensive rebounding team this season, so Boston might not have to contend with the rash of second-chance points that have crippled them throughout their four-game losing streak.
Robb: Only if the offense shows up. The Thunder have the second highest offensive rating in the league at the moment, and get to the free throw line at a better rate than every other team in the NBA. Meanwhile, the C's haven't cleared the 85-point barrier during their current four-game losing streak and those types of numbers clearly won't get the job done against OKC. The good news for Boston is that the Thunder themselves have been a subpar rebounding and defensive team this year, so scoring points against them will be an easier task than it was against the likes of the Bulls and Pacers. With emotions sure to be riding high on both sides, I expect Boston to stop the bleeding for one night anyway, and get a close win over the Thunder.
Forsberg: The fouls are what scare me. I think the Celtics will get up for a big-time opponent (especially given all the Perkins hoopla), but if they spend the night hacking away and putting the Thunder at the charity stripe, it's going to be an awfully long night (and not just because of a national broadcast and 8 p.m. start time). This is far from an ideal game for a team desperate for a win and the fact that Boston hasn't been able to gut one out recently makes me leery if they'll be able to do it this time around. OKC came into Boston last year without Durant and emerged with a 92-83 win (and, while he was still recovering from ACL surgery, at least Perkins was still technically a Celtic then). It all comes down to Rondo. Can a matchup with Westbrook fuel him to carry this team? It's possible, but OKC might simply have too much talent.