Oklahoma City beat the Boston 119-115 in what was a physical, slow-paced contest at TD Garden. The Thunder came away with a well-earned victory on a night where the Thunder did not play particularly well. Oklahoma City turned the ball over 27 times and almost threw away an unassailable lead late in the fourth quarter. However, OKC stayed the course and were able to outlast the Celtics.
The game started as it meant to go on with neither team really imposing their will on the contest. The Thunder were able to edge out a slender lead by being aggressive in the pick and roll. Moses Brown set crunching screens and created a lot of space for the ball-handler to work. He was rewarded for his sacrifice with an easy dunk at the rim off a short, sharp toss from Pokusevski.
The Thunder were up by seven points when Brad Stevens chose to burn his first timeout. Oklahoma City’s balanced scoring attack had eked out a lead but two quick bombs from Payton Pritchard chopped the deficit. Pritchard, the Celtics’ rookie guard, started brightly and carried that scoring touch throughout the game. Jaylen Brown and Payton Pritchard carried the Celtics’ offense for the duration of the game.
Towards the end of the first quarter, the Thunder’s offense stagnated. OKC did not do enough to challenge the Celtics with player movement and ball movement. There were a few occasions when the ball was trapped on the wing and time was wasted. Boston got the game down to a single possession deficit but Isaiah Roby’s buzzer beating three-pointer meant that the quarter finished 29-24 to the Thunder.
The second stanza is where the game slowed down and became stop-start. The referees did not get much rest as they whistled for fouls frequently throughout the quarter. Oklahoma City were guilty of being foul-happy but the Celtics took their propensity to foul to another level. The Thunder continually got to the line and kept a stuttering offense ticking over through the freebies at the charity stripe.
The Thunder did not play at all well during the second quarter; there were too many turnovers and bad shots for my liking. However, there were a few bright spots. Kenrich Williams has been one of the most reliable players for the Thunder this year and tonight was no different. Williams came into the game and filled in the gaps as he usually does.
Kenny Hustle played stifling defense but it was his offense that provided life to the Thunder while his fellow reserves were struggling. Kenrich scored from all three levels and chipped in six efficient points in what was a low-scoring quarter for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City’s offense was putrid but the defense was very solid. Although the Celtics did themselves no favours by missing the easy looks inside, I thought that OKC did a great job at nullifying Jaylen Brown’s supporting cast. Evan Fournier was not able to find good looks on offense because he was being hounded by the Thunder’s defense.
Marcus Smart is usually one of the Celtics’ strongest contributors but he had a tough time against the Thunder. Darius Bazley denied the driving lane and he baited Smart into taking outside looks. While Smart can knock down this shot occasionally, it is not one of his strengths. Bazley’s intelligent, thoughtful defense led Smart to settle for bad looks.
The defense meant that Oklahoma City went into the break with a six point lead. The third quarter started well for the Thunder. Pokusevski continued his strong first half performance with a make all the way from Worcester, Massachusetts. Brad Stevens recognised the shift in momentum and subbed in Payton Pritchard with nine minutes remaining in the third.
The introduction of Pritchard put more shot creation and shooting on the floor for Boston and it finally looked like the Celtics had woken up offensively. Boston started to knock down shots from deep and the Celtics had started to punish the Thunder’s turnovers. The Celtics looked to be in the ascendancy while the Thunder’s defense had started to slip.
The game was tied at 78-78 as we entered the fourth quarter. It did feel like one good run from either team would put the game away but that was never the case. The game went back and forth right until the end of the game. The fourth quarter felt like the 15th Round of a Heavyweight classic; the Thunder and Celtics were throwing haymakers in an attempt to close the game out.
The game remained broken by fouls but the Thunder’s offense blew open from a three-point barrage. Svi Mykhailiuk, Ty Jerome, Darius Bazley; all three players drained outside looks in quick succession. Oklahoma City had managed to build a sizeable lead despite all of the unforced errors.
As the game entered the closing stages, Ty Jerome emerged as a closer. Jerome’s been excellent as a backup point guard off the bench this season but Coach Mark chose to close the game with Ty rather than Theo. Jerome delivered on his coach’s faith with a huge, Lillard-range three. Roby followed up with a hammer dunk and Oklahoma City were up by seven with very little time on the clock left.
However, Oklahoma City were not home and dry. Two head-scratching turnovers by the Thunder brought Boston back into the game. The Celtics were abject throughout the game but they suddenly had an opportunity to steal a win. Bazley put a stop to those hopes with a forceful, strong dunk. Maledon followed up with two free throws that effectively sealed the game for the Thunder.
The quality of the Thunder’s performance was not great. Oklahoma City made a ton of errors but there are quite a few positives to take away from tonight’s performance. The Thunder showed a lot of grit and resilience in the face of adversity and the boys were not scared by the pressure. Roby, Bazley, Jerome and Dort all stepped up in a big way to finish off the Celtics.