- The Celtics' win over the Thunder on Thursday helped dispel its early season woes while OKC has to go back to the drawing board to try and get its first win.
The Celtics and the Thunder both found a way to start the narrative for their seasons on Thursday.
For Boston, it was something to take pride in. The team was lucky to end an abysmal first half with just a 16-point deficit. To say the offense struggled in the opening 24 minutes would be an understatement. The Celtics couldn’t buy a three and they had plenty of passes miss the mark as they barely scraped together 34 points.
But in the third quarter, Brad Stevens and his team figured something out. After missing their first 11 triples to start the game, Gordon Hayward opened the second half with a corner three that took the lid off the rim. Kyrie Irving put some energy into the ball by connecting on a pair from beyond the arc himself. Then Jayson Tatum joined in on the action with a three of his own.
Still, the Celtics stared at a 13-point hole with just fewer than five minutes left in the third. That’s when Al Horford stepped up. In 54 seconds Horford took a basket that was tight all night and stretched it out with three straight threes to make it 70-64 and put the Thunder on the ropes for the first time all night.
While Boston was mounting a comeback, Oklahoma City was folding. A 23-point third quarter wasn’t a complete disaster, but it set the table for an ugly collapse. Horford’s three-point barrage started a 19-4 run that closed the quarter and exposed the Thunder’s inability to create offense when it wasn’t dictating tempo by getting out on the break.
In the fourth quarter, it seemed like the Thunder had found just enough to hold off the Celtics and pick up their first win. They led by nine with four minutes and 22 seconds remaining, and then it all went downhill.
Some Tatum free throws were followed by a miss from Russell Westbrook. Some Marcus Morris free throws were followed by a Paul George miss. An Irving bucket was followed by a Westbrook turnover that set up more Tatum free throws that were followed by another Westbrook miss.
After Irving tied things at 95 with less than a minute left, there was still hope for the Thunder to pull out the victory. But another miss from the former MVP set up a go-ahead triple from Morris that all but ended the night.
Westbrook missed one more from deep, and then George missed another after the Celtics pushed their lead to four. In the end, Oklahoma City walked away with a 101-95 loss.
Boston’s grit was on full display. Battling back and turning its fatal flaw from the first half into its saving grace in the second. There are still issues on the offensive end for Stevens to address, but his squad knows that even when its off, it can get back on track and pull out the win. Losing to the Magic at home to start the week was not pretty, but the road victory eases the pain.
On the other side, Billy Donovan needs to go back to the drawing board and figure out how he can get a win. The first two games of the season were on the road and Westbrook was sidelined. Sure, the team did not get its desired results, but the early losses weren’t the worst thing. But since Westbrook came back the Thunder have lost at home to the Kings and Celtics and Westbrook and George have not been able to carry this team the way they were expected. They scored well against Sacramento, but couldn’t help their defense get key stops late. And Thursday they combined to shoot 12-for-42 and could get a bucket when the offense needed it most.
As both teams head into their weekends, their next games stand out as potential benchmarks just two weeks into the season.
The 3-2 Celtics hit the road to face a 4-0 Pistons squad led by Blake Griffin, Saturday with a chance to show their ugly offense early in the season is nothing to sweat. Another road win to squash the strong start of a potential playoff contender is exactly what we should expect from a team competing for a championship this season. If Boston can do just that, it will make the loss to the Magic just a blip on the schedule.
The 0-4 Thunder welcome the Suns to Oklahoma City on Sunday and a 0-5 start is not an option for a team that was supposed to be playing for a top-four seed in the West. Something needs to click on either offense or defense. They can’t be the team that gives up 131 to the Kings and the team that scores one point in the final four minutes of a game it needs to win.
Boston is in position to show it can steal a win at any time and in any place coming off Thursday’s comeback. Oklahoma City is in position to fall into a possibly insurmountable early-season hole after doing everything it could to lose Thursday.