As the final buzzer sounded during Sunday night's 92-83 loss to Boston, Thunder coach Scott Brooks walked to mid-court at Oklahoma City Arena and shook hands with Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
"Your guys are tough," Rivers told Brooks.
Turns out, the Thunder isn't nearly tough enough. Not yet, anyway.
This was a game that showed the difference between a team that is a title contender and a team that wants to be one someday.
Boston thrashed the Thunder 105-87 last year at the Ford Center, a clinic which Brooks called the most thorough performance against his team last season.
Sunday was more of the same as the Celtics built a 22-point lead with 8:44 left in the third quarter. "Against a great team like that, you can't dig yourself a hole and try to get out of it," Thunder small forward Kevin Durant said.
The Thunder closed out the third period with a 13-2 run and narrowed the deficit to 73-67 on a James Harden 3-pointer with 11:17 left in the contest.
But this game of streaks quickly flopped as Boston (6-1) answered with a 15-4 run of its own, regained control at 88-71 with 7:04 left and the Thunder never got closer than the game's final margin.
"We got up on a great team, and had to keep playing that way to win the game," Rivers said.
What did in the Thunder (3-3) were 18 turnovers, which the Celtics transformed into 21 points.
"Our effort was fine tonight," Brooks said. "We actually played decent defense. We were just turning the ball over. We've got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. We've done a pretty decent job all year long (tied for sixth in the league), but in this game it kind of snuck up on us. We turned the ball over too many times, and that led to too many easy buckets."