Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s win at Boston.
- Despite being without Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, the Thunder showed a lot of fight early against the Celtics. And that fight carried over for 48 minutes. OKC took a 25-23 lead after the first quarter behind team play. The Thunder had seven assists in the first quarter and saw all five starters score in double digits.
- The story of this game, though, was how the Thunder played smart and the Celtics played around. Boston didn’t respect the Thunder coming into this one without Durant and Green. And in addition to playing together, the Thunder played a game of pacing. On nearly every possession, the Thunder slowed things down, walked the ball up the court and tried to get high-percentage shots that wouldn’t lead to Celtics run outs. And it worked to perfection.
- What’s crazy is both coaches acknowledged this outcome as a realistic possibility before the game. When I shook my head and said to Thunder coach Scott Brooks at this morning’s shootaround that this was a bad time to be wounded, Brooks responded, “Or a great time.” And when Celtics coach Doc Rivers was asked if he needed to remind his players how dangerous the Thunder can be without Durant he responded, ““If I don’t, they will.”
- Said Rivers after the game: “Veteran teams should know better and we didn’t. You could see it. On both ends there was no urgency the entire night.”
- None of the above facts should been seen as a slight to the Thunder. As I said, OKC played smart and played together. It’s the Celtics’ fault that they didn’t bring their ‘A’ game. But give credit to the Thunder. The team came into a hostile environment that hadn’t seen a loss all season and secured a short-handed win over the best team in the East.
- The Thunder shot 2-for-18 in the fourth quarter. And you’ve got to think that’s almost impossible. Russell Westbrook, who had been brilliant in the first three quarters aside from occasional moments of being out of control, went 0-for-7 in the period. His fourth-quarter performance summed up the team’s struggles. Westbrook took jump shot after jump shot after jump shot. In the final 6 1/2 minutes, the Thunder had only three drives to the basket. Westbrook drew a flagrant foul on Shaq on the first. Westbrook missed a layup on the second drive. And James Harden missed a layup on the only other drive.
- You could say some of the shot selection in the fourth quarter was bad. But my question is where were the sets to get the team a better shot?
- It looked like it was going to be a long night for the Thunder when Shaq got going early. In the first half, he was 5-for-5 for 10 points and three rebounds. He finished the game with 11 points and six rebounds. I’d say that’s pretty good.
- Royal Ivey made some huge plays tonight. When Rajon Rondo pestered Westbrook into nearly fumbling the ball all over the court, Ivey scooped up the rock and banked in a 3 from the wing as the shot clock expired. It gave the Thunder a 77-67 lead, its largest of the night, with 29.2 seconds left in the third. Ivey later drew a charge on Rondo with 6:19 left to play and the Thunder up 83-76. It was Rondo’s fifth foul, and a hamstring injury kept Rondo sidelined for much of the rest of this one.
- Mo Peterson got some burn tonight in the first half. We didn’t see whether he can make a shot.
- D.J. White was again big off the bench.
- Nick Collison took another charge tonight. It was his third in four games.
- What do you know? The Thunder made 6-for-9 from 3 while the Cs made 1 of 8. Who would have thunk it without Durant available?
- What I liked most about this one was that the Thunder never backed down. The Celtics didn’t necessarily try to intimidate the Thunder. But there were some hard fouls given out and we saw OKC respond by shoving back. Thabo Sefolosha stepped to Kevin Garnett. Serge Ibaka had some jawing and bumping with Garnett. And Westbrook and Rondo went at it pretty good. Nobody wanted a piece of Shaq, though, after a few of his hard fouls. : ) But all in all, it was a great show of toughness, both mentally and physically, by the Thunder.