Thunder 109, Celtics 104
News, notes and observations from Wednesday’s 109-104 win at Boston…
- Without a doubt, this is the best win in the Thunder’s two-year history. And I think we can all agree that it’s not even close. The Thunder beat up the schoolyard bully in its on backyard Wednesday night, first standing toe-to-toe with the Celtics and exchanging counter-punches, then delivering a knockout punch in the form of a dominant fourth quarter. And by the time it was over, there was no more doubt about the Thunder. This turnaround is for real and, evidently, still gaining steam even this late into the season.
- Wednesday’s result wasn’t about revenge for the 18-point whopping the Celtics put on the Thunder in early December. This game held far more significance than that. Against the Celtics, the Thunder had a top flight opponent against which it could measure itself. What the Thunder learned and showed the rest of the league was that it has arrived, no longer just competing against anyone on any given night but now having blossomed to the point where it can beat one of the best teams on their home floor, on a back-to-back no less.
- And with this win, I think we can officially hand Scott Brooks the Coach of the Year award. No more second-guessing. No more watching and waiting to see what happens in Milwaukee with Scott Skiles or in Portland with Nate McMillan or in Phoenix with Alvin Gentry. With 46 wins, the Thunder has now doubled its victory total from last season and came of age on the final night in March against a veteran-laden Celtics team that is two years removed from hoisting the championship trophy. This win embodied everything that Brooks has done right with this team, illustrating the hard work and hustle that this franchise has built its identity on. Thunder players played their roles to perfection. They walked into a sold out TD Garden and played with confidence and a commitment to Brooks’ game plan. And before they walked off the floor and out of the arena, they already were focused on Saturday’s clash with Dallas, never failing to lose sight of the franchise’s fundamental philosophy of finding a way to get better than next day rather than resting on the laurels of yesterday.
- What made this one fun was its nip-and-tuck nature. There were 25 lead changes and 12 ties in this one. Neither team led by more than seven.
- Both teams shot better than 50 percent. Six Celtics scored in double figures. Kevin Durant scored a game-high 37. And Russell Westbrook had an extraordinary 21-point, 10-assists double-double.
- But for all the offensive fireworks, it was the defense that again won it for the Thunder. OKC held Boston to 37 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.
- The Thunder also won the game at the free throw line, and the Celtics weren’t bashful in saying so. After seeing the Thunder attempt twice as many free throws (34-17) as them on their home court, the Celtics were in disbelief. Durant went 15-of-15 from the charity stripe, and it inspired Kevin Garnett to supply the following: “I thought we were playing Michael f***ing Jordan tonight the way he was getting the whistle. Durant damn near shot more free throws than our whole team.”
- How good was Durant tonight? His 37 points and eight rebounds don’t come close to telling the full story. He put pressure on Boston the entire night, either with his scoring, his willingness to battle on the boards, his heads-up passing or simply by using his presence as a decoy to allow his teammates to get into the flow. Durant has become excellent at running off screens to catch and fire with the smallest of space. He ran Allen and Marquis Daniels ragged tonight. If you go back and look, Daniels could only shake his head at some of the shots Durant made.
- As for the griping about the foul calls on Durant, the Celtics don’t have much of a case. The one call I thought was a little generous came on Pierce with 2:40 left to play. Pierce swiped down on the ball with his right hand and did indeed get all ball. Pierce rode Durant with his left arm the entire play, though, but even that, especially at that point in the game, didn’t seem to warrant a whistle. Everything else was a foul. Plain and simple.
- For anyone still questioning Jeff Green’s value on this Thunder team, constantly throwing him in ESPN’s Trade Machine, go back and watch this game over and over and over again. Green was quiet for most of the second half before netting two huge 3-pointers in the final two minutes. His first one came with 1:56 left to play and gave the Thunder a 105-101 lead on a beautifully designed play. With Durant having the hot hand, Green and Nenad Krstic set a double screen for Durant near the baseline under the basket. Durant curled off both screens and while he was commanding so much attention, Krstic set a pick on Garnett to free Green. Green was wide open and calmly buried the trey. And after Ray Allen got a three-point play at the other end, the Thunder came down and ran the exact same play for the exact same result. Only this time, instead of Thabo Sefolosha whipping a cross-court pass to Green, Westbrook hit him in the right corner for the dagger that made it 108-104.
- Green then provided a big block on Allen’s layup attempt with 43 seconds remaining, a basket that would have cut the Thunder’s lead to two and given the Celtics a golden chance to win. These are the types of plays Green makes. Just because he doesn’t post eye-popping stats and is not currently at his natural position doesn’t mean he’s expendable.
- Oklahoma City overcame 60 percent shooting from the Celtics and the challenge of being outscored 56-40 in points in the paint.
- What impressed me the most about this game was the Thunder’s resolve and resiliency. OKC was in command for most of the first half, losing the lead only four times after taking a 15-14 advantage early. And the Celtics never led by more than four (61-57 at halftime) after wrestling back the lead. The Thunder responded to each of the Celtics’ runs with poise and production. When the Celtics rattled off a 10-4 run to pull within 34-33, the Thunder stayed steady and went ahead 47-41. When a quick 5-0 run again pulled the Celtics within one, the Thunder prevented the Celtics from running away with it at the end of the first half and retook a 57-54 lead before Boston closed the half on a 7-0 run.
- Along those lines, it was pretty encouraging to see the Thunder match the physicality of the Celtics, who make it a point to try to bully their opponent night in and night out. Garnett got physical really early with Sefolosha and Green. On two early possessions, there was a lot of pushing and shoving, and Garnett was throwing around his elbows recklessly. The Thunder never backed down.
- Westbrook got off to a great start, weaving his way into the lane and scoring at the rim without fear. His mid-range pull-up game also was in rhythm early. He started 5-for-5 and gave the Thunder the early spark he prides himself on bringing.
- Celtics turnovers were really costly in the first and third quarters. OKC scored 10 of its 30 first-quarter points off Boston’s nine turnovers. Boston then had four of its 16 total turnovers in the third period, and even though the Thunder scored only four points off those giveaways, they helped keep OKC in the game.
- Even more helpful for the Thunder in the third quarter was its effort. Durant hit the deck to recover a loose ball when Allen poked it away. And Westbrook and Krstic got into a scrum down low with Garnett to save a possession. Effort plays like that showed just how much the Thunder wanted this one.
- Rajon Rondo’s buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter tied it at 83-83 going into the fourth and probably should have never happened. The Thunder watched Rondo let the ball roll to halfcourt before he picked it up, dashed through the defense and essentially got an uncontested layup in the span of four seconds.
- Boston fans booed the Celtics with just under four minutes left in the first quarter. And the Thunder was only ahead 21-16.
- The 7-0 run the Thunder ended the first quarter on was big. It gave the visitors a 30-23 lead going into the second period and confidence, if they hadn’t had it already, that they could hang with one of the best teams in basketball on their home floor.
- Rasheed Wallace almost single-handedly brought Boston back and kept the Cs in it in the second quarter, torching Serge Ibaka and Krstic from the left block and wing as he scored three straight to cut the lead to 34-33. He didn’t cool off until having to sit after picking up his third foul with 5:10 left in the second. And it was a good thing for the Thunder, because OKC had no answer for him.
- Brooks used a nice little lineup of Eric Maynor, James Harden, Green, Ibaka and Krstic in the second quarter. Something about that unit I liked. You’ve got three guys who can make plays on the wing, Green at his natural position, and two post players with different but complementary skills.
- When Nick Collison fouled out in the fourth, it was the most upset I’ve ever seen him. He’s right up there with Durant as the most laid back person on the team. But something about that last foul, or maybe the combination of all six of them, drove Collison nuts.
- Was I the only one who caught a glimpse of Celtics assistant coach Clifford Ray’s tie whenever the cameras caught him seated behind Doc Rivers? There must be a good story behind the tie, because no one can freely choose to wear a piece of neck wear so hideous. Maybe there is a touching story behind it, or maybe he lost a bet, or maybe he just reached the end of the rotation. Until I hear more, I’m going to say Doc, one of the sharpest dressers in the league, needs to speak up before letting Ray walk out of the locker room before the next game.
- Speaking of Ray. Ever wonder what Harden will look like 40 years from now? Look no further than Ray. Sorry to do it to you James.
- Up next is Dallas on Saturday, and it already has the feeling of being a big, BIG game. I’ll get excited, I mean really excited, for only four or five games a season. Saturday has become one of them.
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