With Kevin Durant missing his first game of the year because of a sprained left ankle Friday, and Jeff Green sitting for the sixth time in the past seven games due to the same injury, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook became OKC's unquestioned leader against Boston.
Westbrook scored a game-high 31 points with six assists and four rebounds, and his continued emergence drew plenty of attention from media members. When asked about Westbrook, Celtics coach Doc Rivers included the third-year point guard among the league's best playmakers.
â€œIt's tough when you've got Durant on your team,â€ Rivers said of Westbrook garnering attention. â€œBut he's one of the better point guards in the league. The elite group of point guards is growing, which is really good for our league. And he's in it. And he's tough. He's a tough guard. His speed and strength combination is as good as any point guard in the league.â€
DURANT FEELS FOR ODEN
Durant said Friday that he feels for Portland center Greg Oden, who will miss an entire season for the second time in his career because of knee issues.
â€œAll I could do was pray for him,â€ said Durant, who fell into the Thunder franchise's lap with the No. 2 pick after the Blazers selected Oden first overall in 2007. â€œWhen I heard about it, I was shocked because he worked so hard to try to get back.
â€œI'm sure he'll be back. This is just a slight bump in the road. It happens. People go through adversity. He's going to be fine.â€
A TALE WORTH TELLING
James Harden received his first career start in place of Durant on Friday. And Thunder coach Scott Brooks said it would make for a great story Harden can one day tell his children.
â€œYou couldn't ask for a better circumstance, playing in the Garden against one of the hottest teams in the game,â€ Brooks said.
The story will be even better after the Thunder's 89-84 win over the Celtics. And it was Harden's two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining that sealed the win.
â€œIt'll be a great story,â€ Harden said.
THUNDER TO SERVE MEALS
The entire Thunder roster is scheduled to help serve early Thanksgiving dinners to homeless and near-homeless people on Tuesday at the City Rescue Mission in Oklahoma City. The visit is part of the organization's 2010 Thunder Holiday Assist, which includes several community-outreach events aimed at positively impacting lives.
â€œThe Holiday Assist is a core part of the Thunder's commitment to the community, particularly in helping Oklahomans facing serious challenges during the holiday season,â€ said Thunder community relations director Christine Berney.
This will be the second year that the Thunder has served meals at the Mission.
In back-to-back games, the Celtics dodged No. 1 overall pick John Wall of the Washington Wizards and Durant, both missing their team's respective games because of sprained ankles. â€¦ Just before tipoff, Rivers presented Paul Pierce with a ball commemorating his 20,000th point. Pierce, who achieved the milestone on Nov. 3 and became the 36th NBA player and only the third Celtic to do so, received a standing ovation from the crowd. â€¦ New England Patriots wide receiver and Heritage Hall alum Wes Welker attended Friday's game. Welker, a big Thunder fan, wore a Thunder hat to the game.
Boston center Shaquille O'Neal to Brooks before the game â€” â€œI used to kill you.â€