BOSTON â€” An hour before his Boston Celtics took the court against a Thunder team down two starters, one of whom happened to be the league's leading scorer, Doc Rivers was asked if he had to remind his players how good Oklahoma City is even without its star.
â€œIf I don't, they will,â€ said Rivers, without hesitation, of the Thunder. â€œThey'll know pretty quickly.â€
The Celtics coach continued, his next sentence foreshadowing what soon led to his team's downfall.
â€œIf you have to remind your guys to be ready to play, then you've probably got more issues than you need â€” at least on that given night,â€ Rivers said.
As fate would have it, the injury-ravaged Thunder would give Boston plenty of problems Friday night, eventually stunning the star-studded Celtics 89-84, before a sold out crowd of 18,624 inside TD Garden.
Oklahoma City did it without Kevin Durant, who missed his first game of the year due to a sprained left ankle, and forward Jeff Green, who sat out his sixth game in the past seven contests because of the same injury.
In their absence, Russell Westbrook led a balanced and brilliant charge, racking up 31 points, six rebounds and four assists as the Thunder became the first team to beat the Celtics at home.
â€œEverybody stepped up,â€ Westbrook said. â€œThat's kind of how it's going to have to be. Guys are down. Other guys are going to have to come in and be ready to play.â€
The Celtics looked lethargic from the start, turning the ball over on their first four possessions and seemingly thinking they could sleepwalk their way to a victory. But by the time Boston tried to turn it on, it was the Thunder that was in cruise control. OKC never trailed in the second half and took the lead for good on a Nick Collison layup with 6:52 remaining in the second quarter.
By design, the Thunder, which typically likes to push the pace, slowed the game's tempo. On several possessions, Thunder coach Scott Brooks was seen extending an open palm to instruct Westbrook to be patient as he brought the ball up the court. Westbrook then imitated that same open palm to his teammates, patting down on the air to settle the game's speed.