The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Boston Celtics at home, 91-79. In a physical game where offense was at a premium and there were fouls a'plenty, the Thunder were able to manage just enough offense in the 4th quarter to hold off the C's. In the process, OKC stretches its winning streak to 5 games while ending the Celtics' own winning streak at 5.
The Thunder were led by Kevin Durant, who finished with a game-high 23 points. While Durant struggled from the floor once again, he managed to go 11-11 from the free throw line while grabbing 11 defensive rebounds and handing out 4 assists. Durant was followed by Russell Westbrook, who finished with 15 points, and Kevin Martin, who finished with 12.
The Celtics were led by Paul Pierce, who finished with 20 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists. The Thunder defense hounded Kevin Garnett into a woeful shooting performance, finishing 5-19 from the floor. Jeff Green, the former Thunder player who was returning to OKC for the first time since being traded two seasons ago, struggled in his return. Green made only 2-11 shots and finished with 8 points.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The Thunder did a very good job maintaining the mental focus they needed throughout this game. The Celtics play a bit like the Dallas Mavericks in that they are a very patient and aggressive defensive team that is not prone to mistakes. In order to deal with their defensive pressure, an offense has to be willing to wait for the right opportunity to attack.
In the last few games, Kevin Durant in particular has struggled with his shot and has not been able to deliver a lot of offense down the stretch. This time out, even though he was struggling, Durant did a good job working his way to the free throw line where he could produce easy buckets. On the opposite end of the court, the Thunder did a great job challenging the Celtics' drive and kick game. Their offense is working noticeably faster now that Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, and Jeff Green are helping to produce open looks, but the Thunder defense stayed with them and gave up very few open looks. While OKC finished with only 6 blocks on the day, they did a remarkable job protecting the rim, allowing very few easy scoring opportunities.
Russell Westbrook's offense fell back to earth a little bit, but I think it would be an error to say he played poorly. Instead, he was very patient in setting up his and his teammates' offense. Even his small assist total (2) is misleading. With the way Westbrook continued to probe the defense and work the ball around, OKC was able to overcome their weak shooting (44.1%) to end the Celtics' winning streak.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
A lot of credit is due to the Thunder bench in this win. Even better, Scott Brooks showed good judgment and trust in his 2nd unit when things did not immediately go their way. The Thunder bench were handed the reins of the game with about 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and a 9 point lead. The bench managed to score only 1 point for the rest of the quarter, and heading into the 4th, OKC had only a 3 point lead.
It would have been easy for Brooks to come back with his starters to try and build the lead back up, but credit is due to Brooks for recognizing that the Celtics bench was shooting very poorly on the night. The Celtics' leading scorers Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley were both on the bench, so if OKC could manage to extend its lead while relying on their 2nd unit, it would give Durant and Westbrook sufficient rest to come back strong to finish things off.
The OKC bench responded by playing incredibly focused defense, not allowing the Celtics to make a basket until less than 8 minutes remained in the game. Over that stretch, the bench outscored Boston 9-2, with backup PG Reggie Jackson leading the way. He proved more than capable of penetrating the Celtics defense and scored 6 of those points during the stretch. The run concluded when Nick Collison grabbed an offensive rebound and then hit Kevin Martin with a back-door pass that he laid in for an and-1, pushing the lead up to 12 points.
The bench had done its job in strong fashion, actually adding to the Thunder's lead while Durant and Westbrook rested and Serge Ibaka was out with foul trouble. For the game, the bench scored 32 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The Thunder defense put a lid on the Celtics' basket for the final 12 minutes of play.
As noted above, the bench did a great job getting the defense on track, limiting Boston to only 2 free throws and 1 made basket over the first 6 minutes of the 4th quarter. For the entire quarter, the Celtics made only 4 shots and scored 14 points total. If not for a last-gasp 3-point flurry from Jason Terry, the Celtics would have had only 8 points of total offense in the deciding period of time.
For the game, the Thunder held the Celtics to 37.7% shooting from the floor and forced them into 18 turnovers in the game. If not for the Celtics' offensive rebounds, OKC would have played a nearly complete defensive game.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The Thunder had better get some ice on their knees and feet because in 24 hours they have to be in San Antonio to face the offensive juggernaut Spurs. While San Antonio is missing Tony Parker for the next month, his absence has barely slowed down the Spurs' offensive output.
The Thunder are now 1 game behind the Spurs in the overall standings, with 2 more games against the Spurs remaining this season. With the #1 seed on the line, OKC must be prepared for tonight's game in order to take advantage of Parker's absence. There is very little time left to make significant moves in the overall standings, but tomorrow night is a big one.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 23 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Martin, 12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, who was limited with foul trouble throughout
Thunder Plunderer: Paul Pierce, 20 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists
Next game: @ San Antonio Spurs on Monday, March 11th at 7:30PM CDT
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