We were lucky to get out of that one with a win. I know, I know, it was a great win, and there's no better stylish victory than winning with two clutch threes late in the game. But this game could have been over much, much earlier. I'm talking start of the fourth quarter.
The Thunder were, simply put, dominating the paint whenever they decided to go down low. O'Neal and Garnett were too slow to provide adequate help defense, and the Celtics overall defense was situated around the perimeter. We had 9 less free throws than our season average, and we only had three attempts from inside the paint in the fourth quarter, compared to 18 outside of the paint. Why all of the jumpshots? It's not like the Thunder were struggling to get down low, it just seemed that they were satisfied by winning this game from beyond the arc.
I wouldn't say the shots the Thunder took were terrible, but they fired one too many from beyond the arc for a team that's not too good at three point shooting. I mean, we were 2-11 before our miracle run of four threes in a row, and the shots taken before that point (aside from one badly advised Westbrook three) were solid looks. Harden was bricking wide open shots really hard, and Durant's lazer-like long range threes weren't falling.
Let me give you an example. With 8:16 to go in the fourth, the Thunder were up by 10 with possession of the ball. I'll tell you how the next three shots went: Missed Harden three, and two blocked Collison jumpers. Two Pierce free throws and a Pietrus three later, and the Celtics are right back in the game. Why couldn't one of those shots been a drive? Why was Harden shooting a three when he had already missed three earlier in the game? Why was Westbrook passing it to Collison while he was in a extremely susceptible position?
Below: More Analysis, Awards!
I know that we won the game and all is well. But we simply can't expect to hit four threes in a row every night. We can't expect our opponent to consistently clank open jumpers. And we can't expect to find a miracle source of offense out of guys like Sefolosha late in the fourth. Mark my words, when we play like this in the future, it'll bite us in the butt.
But for now, I have to say that the threes hit by Westbrook were really, really sick. Crossover, bang. Twice in a row. Right in Rondo's face. Honey Badger.
On the other side, Paul Pierce consistently found his way into the lane. He was really good at busting the seam when the Thunder defense least expected it, driving down the middle of the lane for more than one wide-open layup. He was a good of a scorer as he ever was, pretty much equaling out Durant.
Overall, the Celtics' execution was flawless. They worked for open shots, and passed the ball to big men down low. But sometimes, the plays just didn't work. Garnett was consistently clanking it from mid-range, and struggling for every point he got down low. Sefolosha was all over Allen, not allowing him to do much of anything. And Rondo was busy trying to facilitate the whole thing. Jermaine O'Neal got some easy one-on-one matchups down low, allowing for some easy points. In other words, the Thunder had some really poor help defense in the paint, and if the Celtics would have just made their shots, the outcome of this game might have been quite different.
Westbrook and Durant fueled the Thunder early on. They were able to get the shots they wanted without too much trouble, while the Celtics were really struggling to to make their shots. The Celtics stayed in the game during this period with their better than average rebounding performance. It wasn't a huge coup for them as the Thunder are only an average rebounding team, but it was still the main advantage they had over us throughout the entire game.
When the game got into its' later stages, Mickael Pietrus turned out to be a huge coup for the Celtics. Why? Well, because he was the only guy of theirs who could make a shot, outside of Pierce. Whenever it seemed like the Thunder would be able to pull away, Pietrus would keep the Celtics in the game with a clutch and mostly uncontested jumper.
With the win, the Thunder continue to have the best record in the entire NBA, the Western Conference and the Northwest Division. The Bulls have one more loss than them, but an equal number of wins, so they're hot on our tracks. In the West, there's a large mix of teams that are 2.5 to three games behind us, so we have a nice cushion for the time being. Our next three games are against some of the worst teams in the East with ample rest in-between, so we shouldn't have a problem keeping our lead in the foreseeable future. The Celtics, on the other hand, fall to 4-8 and are in the midst of a 5 game losing streak. They're currently tied for 9th in the East, and lie solidly in third in the Atlantic Division.
Thunder Wonder: Thabo Sefolosha, 19 Points, 7-9 Shooting, 5 Rebounds, 4 Steals
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, 26 Points, 7 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 3 Steals
Thunder Blunder: James Harden, for missing four threes at some critical junctures.
Thunder Plunderer: Mickael Pietrus, 14 Points and Much in the Clutch
Next Game: At the Washington Wizards, Wednesday, January 18th, 6 PM Central Standard Time