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Nearly one year to the day he was traded away, Kendrick Perkins and the Thunder host the Celtics Wednesday evening.Battered and bruised, the Boston Celtics (15-16, 4-8 away) close out the first half of the 2011-12 season by visiting the Oklahoma City Thunder (25-7, 13-1 home) on Wednesday evening at Chesapeake Energy Arena (7 p.m., ESPN). To preview the matchup, we play a game of 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb.
1. Let's bottom line it: Do the Celtics have a chance against the Thunder?
Payne: Without Rondo, probably not. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will most likely dominate, and you have to figure Serge Ibaka, through sheer athleticism alone, could very well have a field day against Boston's older big men. This feels more and more like a nightmare matchup for Boston, as Oklahoma City boasts the pieces to exploit many of Boston's weaknesses.
Robb: Sure. With Kevin Garnett back, the C's have the players to space the floor against the Thunder and this team has shown it can win without Rajon Rondo. The problem is the C's will have to be nearly flawless offensively to keep pace against the high-powered Thunder offense, something Doc Rivers' crew hasn't been capable of doing in weeks now. Boston has a chance tonight, but it's not a promising one given how hard the injury bug hit again Monday night against Dallas.
Forsberg: The Thunder, even beyond being one of the best teams in the NBA, play very well at home and that building has quickly become an incredibly tough place to play. Even with Kevin Garnett back, the Celtics are still dinged up and playing without their floor general in Rajon Rondo, so this will be anything but easy for staggering Boston. You might hope for the Thunder to overlook the Celtics, especially with the Lakers coming to town on Thursday for another national TV broadcast, but it's hard to imagine that happening with Kendrick Perkins on the floor. All that said, here's one thing for Celtics fans to lean on: When all signs point in one direction, go the other. Maybe, just maybe, Boston finds a way to pull this one out, sending the team into a six-day All-Star break with exactly the bit of confidence it needs to build off of coming out on the other side.
2. On his 26th birthday, Rajon Rondo will sit out his second game of a two-game suspension. Two-parter: Are you surprised at the length of the suspension and does the ban speak to his maturity level?
Payne: I wasn't shocked to hear it was a two-game ban for Rondo, but I do think a one-game suspension would have been more adequate. While there was certainly some hostile intent implied when Rondo tossed the ball at referee Sean Wright on Sunday, the action wasn't overly malicious. It wasn't like he wound up like Pedro Martinez and hurled a 98 mile-per-hour fastball at Wright's head. Rondo certainly should have kept his cool, but as Doc Rivers mentioned, it's an emotional game, and even Boston's elite veterans are sometimes susceptible to their rage. Wasn't Paul Pierce ejected during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Miami Heat last season? These situations never help the team, but even the best players get caught up in their emotions sometimes.
Robb: I was surprised it was more than one game, but it's hard to be shocked by it. Throwing a ball at an official is a major no-no, and given Rondo had a track record in this department (flinging balls a bit too hard at referees) speaks to his maturity level and the length of the suspension. On the floor, Rondo remains a very hard-headed player at times when it comes to his outburst with officials, when he doesn't get the calls he feels he deserves. There's clearly still time to progress here, but the outrage has continue to grow each season, which is not an encouraging development.
Forsberg: A one-game ban seemed much more in line with what the NBA has typically doled out, but any time there's an incident with a referee, a player leaves themselves vulnerable to a harsh penalty. A two-game ban hammers home that message from the league. Some will suggest this is another example of how Rondo remains immature, but to me it's an emotional outburst from a player frustrated by his team's play. Let's see how he responds on the court after the All-Star break and we'll have a better grasp of his maturity following the situation.
3. Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the Kendrick Perkins trade. With the benefit of time, how do we reflect on the deal now?
Payne: Given how Boston's end of the deal has worked out -- Nenad Krstic bolted to Russia and Jeff Green was forced to sit this season out due to an aortic aneurysm (oh, and that 2012 first-round pick from the Clippers loses value with every win that revamped club comes through with) -- I'm sure Danny Ainge isn't too thrilled right about now. But, at the time, none of what has transpired could have been predicted. Ainge certainly can't change it now, so it's best if he just focuses on improving his current team as much as possible, whether that's through trades prior to this season's deadline, or during the offseason, through free agency.
Robb: A lot of people around the country don’t get about the unending sentiment for Perk from the Boston faithful. The fact he was traded is just the tip of the iceberg upon reflection. Boston fans never had a chance to say goodbye to one of their favorites and reward him for rehabbing hard all season from an ACL injury. It’s not just about the fact that he was traded; it’s when it was done, a mere hour before the trade deadline which magnified the negative sentiment. While he likely would be gone now, I can't help but look back now and see the deal as the beginning of the end for the C's contender prospects in this era.
Forsberg: Time hasn't altered my view: The Celtics made a tough-to-swallow move they felt was necessary in order to obtain the talent they thought they needed to make a playoff run last season (all while acknowledging that Perkins was not part of their future plans). Did they underestimate the intangible effects of the deal? Absolutely. Did they overestimate the health of their remaining centers? No doubt. But from a good-on-paper perspective, the deal made a lot of sense, but combined with injuries to Rondo and Shaquille O'Neal, it simply didn't play out as Boston had envisioned. The fact that Nenad Krstic bolted for the comfort of an overseas payday during the lockout and the health situation involving Jeff Green shouldn't alter how we view the deal, neither really could have been expected. If Boston adds an impact big man this offseason, maybe some stragglers will finally come to grips with the deal.