FINAL: Boston: 134 Oklahoma City: 129
The Patriots stole the day yesterday after dispatching of the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 and securing their 6th Super Bowl title. That game was a bit of a snoozer but if you wanted your offensive fix for the day, all you had to do was tune into ABC at 2. The Celtics and Thunder put on a show combining for 263 points as they battled all the way to the final buzzer. Kyrie Irving led the way with 30/4/11 on 14-19 shooting while for the Thunder, Paul George posted 37/4/4 on a less than stellar 11-27. Russell Westbrook had a big night as well to spearhead OKC’s efforts as he put up his 6th straight triple double with 22/12/16. There were big performances offensively across the board as 14 different players reached double figures in points.
The Celtics were cookin’ from the start en route to a 59.3% shooting mark from the field and a 38.2% mark from downtown. It seemed like everything was going in as the entire team contributed and were clicking at the same time.
8 of 9 Celtics were in double figures and only one player on the roster shot less than 50% from the field (sorry Gordon but fair is fair). They were wildly efficient as they racked up 36 assists on 54 made baskets. 2/3s of their baskets were assisted on as they continue to establish their identity as a deep team that can beat you in many different ways. These passes show how in tune they are as a unit right now as everybody is on the same page.
The key is how little time is wasted between passes. Less dribbling and more passing is the recipe for success for this Celtic team with so many weapons. Isolating just bails the other team out in a lot of circumstances (unless it’s Kyrie) as when the Celtics have the ball moving like this, they’re almost impossible to keep up with. Not only did they keep the ball moving early on but they had key assists in crunch time to put them over the top.
Everything went right on offense for them and they needed every bit of it as the Thunder were up for the challenge of scoring a billion points. Overall, the defense didn’t look too bad as the Thunder hit a bunch of tough shots. With that being said, winning games while giving up 129 points is not an easy task and they experienced that yesterday. The best in the league are going to take advantage and it’s a big deal that the Celtics were able to roll with the punches and play their game down the stretch.
Speaking of playing their game, newly anointed 3 and D guy Marcus Smart keeps proving the naysayers wrong. Smart finished with 18 points, 7 assists, and 2 steals on 6-11 shooting and 4-9 from three. He went on a run in the third quarter where he hit 3 straight triples and gave the Celtics a lot of momentum as the crowd loved it.
He’s now up to 36.7% on the season and is at 39.2% from deep in 32 games as a starter this year. Whatever “it” is, he has it this year and his confidence is sky high. All Marcus ever wanted was to be a 3/D guy and after persevering through some rough shooting seasons, he can finally call himself just that. He’s worked to become this type of player and it’s all paid off for him this year.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were a bit quiet in this one (Tatum: 11 points 4-8 Brown: 12 points 4-6) but both filled their roles and did what was needed from them. Going into this season there was a question of how Tatum/Brown would perform in games where other guys had it going and they weren’t as much of a focal point. Yesterday was a good sign as they both were able to make an impact on the game without being overly aggressive. When Tatum gets going with the 7+ dribble touches while he takes the offense hostage and Jaylen starts driving into a wall under the basket, things don’t go to well. Yesterday however, they were able to show their ability to pick their spots and make things happen within the offense.
Terry Rozier also was able to make an impact without hijacking the offense as he had 10 points and was tied for the team high with 7 rebounds. The Thunder are 3rd in the NBA in rebounding (48 per night) and with guys like Steven Adams and Westbrook around, it isn’t easy to keep them off the glass. The Celtics did get out rebounded (42-38) but the margin could have been a lot worse if not for performances like this from Terry. With Baynes out the Celtics were thin up front and they needed those rebounding contributions from the guards/wing players.
The shooting touch from Morris/Horford was on display yesterday as well. Mook was 8-14 from the field while Al was 8-13. Since returning from his injury Al has had shooting splits of 58.3/39.6/93.3 over 21 games. He’s been able to play off Kyrie and they’ve developed some great chemistry, especially in PnR/PnP situations. Postgame Brad Stevens lauded their efforts as he said the two have a “special dynamic” when they work in the 2 man game.
They are able to get anything they want off of the screens and it makes for a tough cover with Kyrie’s ability to change his mind on a dime and make his defender look silly. Al’s knowledge and overall basketball IQ also put the opposition in a tough situation in these instances. It’s something the Celtics utilize a lot and it opens up shots for others as well.
Last but not least, we have Kyrie Irving. While he posted another 30 and 10, I was more impressed by how efficient he was. While going 14-19 is one thing, going 13-14 from 2 point range is another. He was all the way in his bag, made Russ very confused, and had Steven Adams stuck in quicksand.
He was THE guy once again and he would not let this team lose. He did it all and saved some of his best for last as he had 6 points in the final 3 minutes including this layup to basically seal it.
All around, it was a great effort top to bottom for the Celtics and a big win against a top team. They were pushed to the very edge but were able to stand their ground and pull out the victory. Not only did they get their 34th win of the season, but they moved up in the Eastern Conference standings. As they are 2-0 versus Philly on the season, the Celtics currently own the tiebreaker and now hold the 3rd spot in the conference.
After such a disappointing start to the season, being 3.5 back of 2nd, and 5 back of 1st isn’t a bad spot for the Celtics to be in. They’ve been ripping off wins (9 of their last 10 and 12 of 16) and it’ll be a tight race down the stretch for positioning and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Celtics now travel to Cleveland for a matchup with the Cavaliers tomorrow at 7:00 PM ET.
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