The Oklahoma City Thunder used a 40-point third quarter to overcome a halftime deficit and beat the Boston Celtics, 122-118. The Thunder trailed 70-66 with 5:33 to go in the third, but used a 27-11 run to close it out and take a 13-point lead into the fourth. Russell Westbrook keyed that run with 14 points, 2 steals and an assist in that stretch.
The Celtics never went away and made it close down the stretch, but they could never get it within one possession, and free throw shooting carried the Thunder to the win.
Here are 5 takeaways from the win.
Westbrook may be getting tired. Or we're just super spoiled.
It was another off shooting night for Westbrook, who has never been an efficient scorer, but still tends to be better than 8-26. It was also another night of many turnovers for Westbrook, who had seven. It's worth noting, though, that only one of those came in the second half, and as mentioned it was his surge in the third quarter that pretty much swung the game for good in Oklahoma City's favor.
Look, no one can say for sure if he is getting worn down from his hellish (credit Nick Jonas for bringing that word back) pace over the past couple months. He certainly seems to be relying on that reacharound defense more than usual - which is saying a lot for him - and it's proving costly without any real rim protectors behind him. He also seems to be trying to draw fouls more on his shots - again, not necessarily new, just seems even more noticeable of late.
It's hard to complain about any of that, though, because of his ability to simply will his team when they need him most. Those reacharound gambles can be maddening when they result in an easy layup, but they are also electrifying when they result in breakaway dunks like we saw in the third. It's a give and take, and having Durant back soon to stabilize him even more and take some of that load off can only help. Until then we should really appreciate that we are nitpicking over a 36/10/5/5 performance.
The defense is a real problem though
The Thunder scored 122 points tonight and only won by four. They allowed the Celtics to shoot 52 percent from the floor. It starts with the wing defenders, who are all struggling to simply keep their man in front, and it obviously goes down the line to the bigs who are having just as much trouble in simple pick-and-roll sets. We already broke down how much Enes Kanter seems to struggle in this area, it's just a little frustrating that the only solution seems to be "hope the Thunder makes the playoffs and Serge gets back to cover up the atrocious defense."
The Bruise Brothers are a real threat
Kendrick Perkins had two double doubles in his entire tenure in OKC. Enes Kanter already has eight. Meanwhile, Adams return coupled with Ibaka's absence means the Thunder can use the two Thunder bigs a lot more, and it's paying huge dividends.
To say Kanter has been a revelation on offense undersells just how much he seems to have transformed this offense - which is still playing without Kevin Freaking Durant by the way - into a well-oiled machine. Perhaps just as impressive as his post offense has been his inability to be in perfect position on seemingly every offensive rebound opportunity. He gobbled up 7 offensive boards tonight, and finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Adams finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds himself, meaning the two bigs combined for 36 points (on 15-22 shooting) and 23 rebounds. The defense at the rim needs work, but they may just be good enough offensively to outscore teams to the point where they can afford to give up points on the other end. At least in games like tonight.
Anthony Morrow is a fire emoji
One of the other benefits of having inside presences like Kanter and Adams is that it sucks the defense in a little more and frees up the 3-point line. That's huge for a sharpshooter like Morrow, who continues to prove himself as the premier 3-point shooter in the vast array of those that the Thunder have sought to acquire. Lamb is done, Waiters is incredibly hit or miss, Roberson is laughably bad, Singler has less confidence than a chess club captain asking a cheerleader to prom, which makes Morrow's recent stretch all the more important. He's scored in double figures in seven straight and went for 20 tonight (on 7-11 shooting, 4-7 from 3).
Even more exciting is the fact that, for once, Brooks seems more than willing to play the hot hand. Morrow is getting the time, and he's paying it off, largely just by being in the right place and converting his opportunities. Whether it's by being on the receiving end of a pass out of an offensive rebound from Kanter, or a nifty set where Westbrook drives and dishes, Morrow is knocking down huge shots and it's giving the Thunder even more weapons for the defense to account for.
Kyle Singler may have worn out his welcome
All that said on Morrow, Singler got a DNP - Coach's Decision tonight, and Steve Novak saw some burn. Hard to disagree with the reasoning there since, again, he has looked utterly hopeless in his own shooting ability. Add to that the fact that his defense hasn't exactly turned any heads, and there is really no need for him out there.
In the end it's a 4-point win over an Eastern Conference team that isn't Atlanta or Cleveland, so it's hard to get too excited. The race is tight, and it doesn't look like New Orleans in going anywhere. Thankfully for the Thunder, Durant's return is imminent, and Westbrook - though far from perfect - keeps finding ways to do just enough to keep the ship from sinking. And the supporting cast of Morrow, Kanter and Adams is starting to provide real support along the way.
Thunder Wonder: Anthony Morrow: 20 points on 7-11 shooting (4-7 from 3)
Thunder Down Under: Enes Kanter: 22 points, 10 rebounds (7 offensive)
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters: 4-14 shooting for 8 points
Thunder Plunderer: Marcus Smart: 25 points, 9 rebounds, 7-12 from 3-point range, a Celtics rookie record for made 3-pointers in a game. Should we talk about how literally every team has one guy have a breakout game against the Thunder, or nah?
Next game: Friday, March 20 vs. Atlanta Hawks at 7PM CST