Last time the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder met, the Cs pulled off an improbable comeback W on OKC’s home floor. This time…would not be as interesting, right? With Kyrie Irving still out from knee soreness (along with Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis) and unable to duel Russell Westbrook?
WRONG. The Celtics took punches and made a few mistakes but never fell out of this game, and pounced on an incredible Thunder collapse in the game’s final 30 seconds to win their 48th game of the season on a Marcus Morris buzzer-beater, 100-99.
THE GAME FLOW
“Maybe Carmelo will shoot them out of it.” So I thought to myself early in this contest, with OKC seeming to have the initial upper hand. Westbrook is Westbrook, Paul George is Paul George and the Steven Adams/Aron Baynes big man matchup isn’t great. The Thunder were also defending the Cs tightly to further exacerbate the inherent offensive weakness Boston has without the strength of Kyrie. (Carmelo Anthony, as will always be his wont, chucked relentlessly, though, leading me to my comment. He went 1-5 in the first quarter, including 0-3 on treys.)
Jayson Tatum assumed something of a leadership role in this one, initiating plays and shooting with more zeal than he’ll sometimes exhibit. It didn’t stop the Cs from being down 26-18 to an OKC squad that’d just won six straight, but that confidence is indicative of the superstar so many of us envision him becoming.
Things looked a little bit better for our heroes as the second frame unfolded. Roster necessities forced Brad Stevens to keep giving more tick than usual to Semi Ojeleye and Abdel Nader—the latter of whom I think Brother Brad would send back to Portland, Maine, in a second if he could. But the former acquitted himself well defensively, and Nader played without being quite so damn herky-jerky in this quarter.
Moreover, Tatum locked in on being his team’s fulcrum, putting some swagger on it as well, particularly on a monster one-handed dunk. This was enough to match OKC and take a lead even though the Thunder didn’t exactly make a ton of mistakes. (One failure of theirs that was notable: Missing out on multiple rebounding and second-chance-point opportunities because of Celtics aggressiveness on the glass, stealing what has been crucial to OKC’s offense since Adams became a starter.)
Terry Rozier took over to give Jayson a breather, going on a mini-run: He drove hard on three consecutive transition dashes to the cup, one of them off a sly steal, and capitalized each time. New OKC acquisition Corey Brewer—whose ability to run NBA plays anymore sort of baffles me, but whatever—ruined the fun by making a steal-turned-dunk of his own. Aggressiveness from George and Westbrook, along with a horrible flub by Rozier, led to the Thunder retaking the lead, but it was a close one at the half: 48-45 Oklahoma City.
Perhaps aiming to reassert himself as the dominant boards presence (and noted drinker of 1,000 beers per night) he usually is, Adams walloped his way to the bucket right from the start of the second half. Yet he didn’t convert as expected and also shot subpar at the free-throw line. Tatum kept driving and pressing just as he had been, but what also got the Celtics back on track (and in the lead) to begin the third quarter was Al Horford, who’d gone scoreless and taken only one shot in the first two frames, nailing back-to-back treys. It can’t be denied that he’s had some rough patches of late, but Uncle Al is nothing short of essential to the Celtics’ success. (As his whip-smart, silver-tongued sister Anna oft reminds the idiot haters on Twitter, wait for him in the playoffs.)
Things were tight as hell through most of Q3: Trading buckets like a war of attrition, particularly in the frame’s second half. Then Westbrook and George each went on mini-tears, while Brewer and Jerami Grant made surprise contributions, and in what felt like second OKC had an advantage near to double digits. If not for Shane Larkin’s infusion of frenetic energy at the quarter’s end, getting a clean finger roll and then making a trey at the buzzer, it could’ve been uglier for Boston, but as it stood, the Thunder only held a 75-73 advantage.
Certain season-long problems of Oklahoma City came into stark relief in the final 12 minutes. They held onto their lead for about half of that span, but the limitations of their bench—dudes like Josh Huestis, Patrick “Most Expensive Thunder Free Agent Ever” Patterson and Raymond Felton—showed themselves in basic mistakes that will bite them in the ass when the Western Conference playoff meatgrinder begins, regardless of what happens in this game.
However, the Thunder also have superstars, and the Celtics didn’t for this contest. Melo’s shot-thirst (and George’s natural, less showy accuracy) eventually paid off and got the visiting squad back on top. Tatum, Rozier and Greg Monroe did as much as they could to keep the Celtics in it, but things looked dire……
……and then OKC decided to forget how to shoot free throws. Adams was Patient Zero for this epidemic of Charitystripebrickitis, as I, Dr. L.G., have named it, but it burst into full toxic flower at the worst time for the Thunder. Let’s go moment by moment. (We’ll do this in lieu of Hot Shit and Not Quite It, category questions I hope have been readily answered by the body of the recap):
- 0:24.7 – It’s currently 97-92 OKC. Westbrook makes two free throws. Stevens calls for a time out. He has that droll frustrated ATO look on his face and also takes some time to talk a little smack to a referee.
- 0:20 to 0:17.6 – Horford inbounds from side halfcourt. Monroe gets the ball, holds it, knows now isn’t his moment, praises the moose spirits and gets it to Tatum for an and-1 finger roll.
- 0:17 to 0:16.8 – Westbrook, quickly fouled, misses his first throw after being distracted by a Cupcakevision of something Kevin Durant said that annoyed him in 2013. Remembering it’s 2018, he makes the second.
- 0:16.8 to 0:12.3 – Rozier brings the ball quickly up court, doesn’t hesitate, nails an off-the-dribble three-pointer. He shouts something ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE about Westbrook’s mom to disorient him. I don’t want to repeat it but they don’t call him Scary Terry for nothing, OK? (99-97 OKC, by the way.)
- 0:12.3 to 0:07.7 – Despite almost blowing it due to confusion, Rozier manages to quickly foul Carmelo. Melo is a reasonable free-throw shooter, but ALL THE WAY FROM THE AREA 21 SET, Kevin Garnett mind-melds with Melo to make him think of nothing but a very specific type of cereal. TL;DR, he misses both free throws; Stevens calls timeout.
- 0:07.7 to – 0:01.2 – Marcus Morris inbounds quickly to Uncle Al, who sends it just as quickly to Tatum. Penetrating into the paint a bit but seeing no opening, Tatum chucks it out to Mook, who is as much a chucker as anyone. And he chucks from deep – nothing but net. TD Garden crowd noise causes a brief rift in space-time. Kyrie, while cheering, finally realizes the earth is actually round. 100-99 Celtics.
- Everything else – Westbrook gets the chance for a three and barely touches the front rim with it. Ballgame.
Rozier: “Oh yeah? Let me get one in:”
ICE IN LARKIN VEINS:
BUT MOOK SEZ “LET ME SHOW HOW MINE COLDER:”