BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics haven't allowed a triple-double in nearly three years, but while much of the hype surrounding Sunday's visit to Oklahoma City will center on whether Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook can prolong his triple-double streak, Boston's focus must remain on the final result and not an opponent's individual stat line.
Only two players have posted triple-doubles against Boston since Brad Stevens took over as head coach the offseason before the 2013-14 campaign, and none have done it since the infancy of his tenure. Lance Stephenson posted two triple-doubles for Indiana in late 2013 (Boston won both games), and Washington's John Wall had the last triple-double during a Wizards victory on Jan. 22, 2014.
Boston has held its opponents without a triple-double for 225 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NBA, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. What's more, of the players active for Boston on the night of Wall's triple-double, only one remains on the current roster (Kelly Olynyk). The Celtics' starting five that night was Phil Pressey, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Kris Humphries, and Jared Sullinger (Olynyk, Brandon Bass, Chris Johnson, Vander Blue, and Joel Anthony were utilized off the bench). Avery Bradley, the only other player still with Boston from that season, was injured and inactive that night.
Since Wall's triple-double, Boston has built a defensive-minded team that will throw Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier at Westbrook on Sunday with hopes of limiting his output. Members of Boston's backcourt are well-aware of the challenge ahead.
"[Westbrook is] an animal. Everybody in this league knows Russ is an animal," said Smart, who played college ball at Oklahoma State and tends to save some of his best basketball for when he's in the Sooner State. "[Westbrook] deserves the respect he gets. He earns it. With a guy like that, you just have to go out and play your best and hope to contain him. You know he’s going to get his. You just have to stop those other guys."
Boston, which lacks a signature victory this season over an elite opponent, would happily allow Westbrook to extend his streak if it meant emerging with a win, as the Houston Rockets did Friday night.
The Celtics will be without their own All-Star point guard, Isaiah Thomas, who is sidelined by a groin strain. Thomas did not make the trip to Oklahoma City but said Friday he is hopeful he can join the team before Wednesday's national TV tilt with the San Antonio Spurs on ESPN.
Thomas' absence will mean more minutes for younger players such as second-year guard Rozier.
"[Westbrook is] amazing. To see him do things like that is pretty amazing," said Rozier. "He’s aggressive every game, and we have to find a way to stop that. He’s putting up video-game stats and it’s tough to stop that. We have to do something."
Boston struggled to contain Toronto guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in the second half of Friday's 101-94 loss to the Raptors at TD Garden. Toronto's All-Star duo combined for 58 points on 18-of-43 shooting. The Celtics have often been OK with allowing opposing stars to get their points as long as they work for it and the supporting cast is kept in check. Westbrook is second in the NBA in scoring (30.9 points per game), second in assists (11.3), and ninth in rebounds (10.8).
"It doesn’t stop for us," said Stevens. "We’ve got a bunch of good [opposing scorers] coming up."
Bradley, an All-Defense first-teamer last season, is eager for the challenge of Westbrook. It would seem likely that the Celtics will send a healthy dose of both Bradley and Smart at Westbrook on Sunday.
"Russell’s a good player. I look forward to every matchup. If it’s him, whoever it is, DeMar, I look forward to it," Bradley said. "That’s what this league’s about, and that’s what I’m about. I’m a competitor."
During Stevens' tenure, Westbrook has played against the Celtics just three times. That included a 36-point, 10-assist effort in 2015. During the Stevens era, Westbrook has averaged 29 points, 6.6 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 3.7 steals in 33 minutes per game against Boston.