Oklahoma City was right where you’d want to be on the road against a good team. And I have no idea how. After three quarters, the Celtics were shooting 67 percent from the floor and the Thunder were shooting 48 percent. Yet somehow, the game was tied.
So many times we’ve seen this young Thunder team walk into this situation and completely clench up. The offensive execution goes first, then they give up a few big rebounds and finally, the just can’t knock down the shots. Most times, the finger is point at Kevin Durant if he doesn’t take over late for his team. The game in Portland comes to mind. But tonight? How does eight HUGE fourth quarter points, four rebounds and stellar defense do you? KD owned the game when he had to, scoring 20 of his game-high 37 in the second half.
KD played every minute of the fourth quarter (and 44 minutes total), and just had the look and demeanor of a guy you could rely on to win you a tight game. With the playoffs only weeks away, this was a good primer for him. Boston grabbed, pushed and pulled Durant around every screen, but KD never wavered. He was focused and determined to win his team a close ball game and that’s exactly what he did.
And while Durant’s performance was a thing of art, former Boston draft pick Jeff Green stole the show with two big time 3s. Honestly, when those two treys left Uncle Jeff’s hand, you knew they were going in, didn’t you? Hes hit so many of those shots this year and after he came up short on three good looks against the Blazers, Green wasn’t going to miss again. He knocked down 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, essentially killing the Celtics.
There’s just a number of things to applaud about this one. The awesome lock down defense in the last half of the fourth. The top notch offensive execution. The defensive rebounding by Nenad Krstic and Durant was terrific late. And Thabo Sefolosha did a wonderful job sealing off Boston’s closer in Paul Pierce. This isn’t the biggest win of the season, but it’s definitely a very, very good one. In my mind, this completely restores the confidence I had in this team and for them, it gives them back a little of that swagger they were walking around with in early March.
- Once again, the Thunder bench came up extremely big. The gold star goes to Eric Maynor who had eight points and four assists off the pine. He played the first half of the fourth quarter and did an outstanding job distributing and controlling the game.
- Had OKC’s jumpshots not been falling, this might’ve been very different. The Celtics outscored OKC 56-40 in the paint and it was worse than that for most of the game. But guys were hitting shots and sometimes that’s all it takes. Amazing how making an open jumper can make your offense look very good.
- A big win for OKC tonight was Russell Westbrook outplaying Rajon Rondo. Rondo was good, but Westbrook was better. Russ started the game 5-5 and never looked back. He finished with 21 points and 10 assists to just two turns and was a menace defensively swiping at everything and breaking up passing lanes.
- Did it feel like there was an inordinate amount of off-the-ball fouls tonight? I think Nick Collison was called for three all by himself.
- Speaking of Nick: He was called for a blocking foul early in the second quarter because his heels were on the restricted line. Nick popped up, clearly in disagreement and looked at the official and said, “Let’s watch it and see.” I liked that.
- We hadn’t seen KD’s rip move for a few games, but he saved one for Ray Allen late in the third quarter. Durant did a really good job selling his shooting motion after it too.
- OKC got another throwback night for a washed up player. Rasheed Wallace flashed back to 2001 as he hit his first seven shots en route to 18 points. But the one he missed was a big one – a WIDE open 3 late in the game that would’ve put Boston up.
- Despite Boston shooting 59 percent to OKC’s 50 percent, the Thunder still finished with a higher offensive efficiency (122.5 to 116.9).
- I’m going to avoid saying much about Kendrick Perkins, but geez man. Smacking Nenad on his hurt finger? That’s pretty low.
- James Harden had just five points but I thought he played a really smart game. One play in the first quarter really highlighted his intelligence. Rondo was trying to feed the high post to Paul Pierce after a switch that put Maynor on Pierce. Harden read it and timed his break perfectly, stealing the pass and finishing it with a dunk.
- This was an odd game. Both Boston and OKC are really good defensive teams. Yet at halftime the game was 61-57 and the Celtics were shooting 70 percent.
- I’d say KD had a nice MVP-ish moment: A big possession in the early fourth for OKC turned into a scramble. Durant dove on the floor and saved possession for the Thunder and OKC ended up with two points. He wanted it tonight.
- A great tweet from Noam Schiller after Durant’s sexy 3-pointer in the third quarter: “That Durant shot was so smooth that I saw my own reflection in it. And I don’t care if that sentence makes no sense.”
- Paul Pierce is probably the biggest foul faker/exaggerator in the league. He yells after every shot and always throws his arms up. But kudos to him because it works. You won’t hear me complaining about any officiating tonight though. OKC shot 34 free throws to Boston’s 17. Durant took 15 (and hit all 15) by himself. So I’m sure there’s some Celtic grumbling.
- Is it just me or does it seem like a lob to Durant is there almost all the time when he’s running that baseline screen play?
- OKC has officially doubled its win total from last year with 46. Let that soak in for a minute.
I thought a 2-1 road trip would be tremendous for the Thunder. And that’s already been put in the pocket. Of course you’d rather see the Thunder play better defense, but when you win, it really doesn’t matter all that much. Especially when it’s on the road against Boston. This win puts the Thunder back in the conversation for seeding in the West instead of just resigning to seventh or eighth. Again, this wasn’t the biggest of the season. But it sure has an important feel to it. Jeff Green hit shots, the team got stops when it needed it and Durant took the game over late. It was a little taste of the postseason and the Thunder executed and got it done. It may not have been the biggest win, but it might be the most important. If that makes any sense.
Next up: At the Mavericks Saturday night.