The Thunder seemed to be in control, but the Celtics, in their typical tough fashion, had Oklahoma City’s lead to three entering the fourth quarter. It was a three-point lead that felt to be in serious peril, knowing the way Boston defends and Paul Pierce’s knack for big crunchtime shots.
But with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the bench, the Thunder started the fourth quarter on a 10-2 run, taking that three-point lead to 12. Reggie Jackson was the main spark, scoring all six of his points in a three-minute span. Kevin Martin finished an and-1 layup and Nick Collison hit a jumper. By the time OKC’s superduo checked back in, all they had to do was hold the lead.
“I thought everybody chipped in offensively,” said Scott Brooks. “That’s what you have to do. You don’t know who’s going to be the guy that makes the shot. All you want to do is execute the play and run it so we can get a good shot.”
The play of the second unit has been something that’s fluctuated this season, with impressive performances like today and horrific outings like what happened in Denver a couple weeks ago. The inconsistency stems I think from not being able to rely on a single player (James Harden) to provide consistent production every night. Martin is good, but he’s not a guarantee to put up 15-20 points. So what the Thunder second unit is appearing to figure out is that guys like Jackson, Derek Fisher, Martin and Nick Collison all have to sort of chip their way to that. Some nights, Martin can produce it all on his own. Other nights, it’s a group effort. That’s scary, but I do think there’s hope.
Most everything the Thunder have lived on is Westbrook and Durant combining to do most of the offensive work, or at least one of them. On this night, they scored just a combined 38 points, one of their lowest outputs of the season and probably the lowest in a game they didn’t sit out the fourth. Just 91 points is obviously low for OKC, but 32 came from the bench and 21 from the other three starters. Not pretty, nothing that stands out, but balanced and solid.
What makes that offensive balance look better though is because the Thunder played one of their stronger defensive games this season, especially in the final 24 minutes. The second half, the Thunder allowed 34 points and held Boston to 25 percent shooting (10-40). The fourth quarter the Celtics scored only 14 on 4-22. It was another late-game lockdown for the Thunder, a clutch defensive performance that was a staple of this team last season, but something that’s lack at times in this campaign.
Where the Thunder dug in most was on Kevin Garnett, who struggled to a 5-19 finish for just 10 points. Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka all pressed him hard, contested him in the mid-range and kept him off the offensive glass. Perk, who obviously has a pretty unique history with Garnett, took the matchup personally.
“Perk took on the challenge,” Durant said. “That’s his mentor, his guy who he looked up to, guy who he learned a lot from. And he took the challenge, making him take a lot of tough shots.”
The Celtics have been a much improved team since the Rajon Rondo injury, mainly because they’ve played faster while picking up their defensive intensity. Perk said he warned the team pregame that this was going to be a challenge in the halfcourt, knowing that Boston would really try and tighten the screws. And despite Durant going just 1-6 from the floor in the second half, the Thunder pulled out another home double-digit win, their fifth in a row.
Ugly and kind of gross, but very effective.
- The Thunder had only three total offensive rebounds in the game. Perk one, Collison one and Ibaka one. Collison’s was big though as he turned it into a slick baseline pass to Martin for an and-1.
- OKC’s margin of victory the last five home games: 26.0 points.
- Jeff Green returned to OKC. And he went 2-11 for eight points with two rebounds. An appropriate performance for him playing in OKC again.
- As for his reception, I’d say the ovation he got was polite cheering. Nothing robust, nothing too noticeable. Though Collison may have stolen his thunder a bit checking in with him as the crowd roared for Nick then barely seemed to notice Green.
- Collison was excellent. In 25 minutes he scored eight points with five rebounds and two assists. And his interior help defensive was just tremendous.
- Every single Thunder player was a plus.
- Ronnie Brewer saw some random minutes to start the second quarter. And he put up a three trillion.
- Ibaka was good, but battled foul trouble the entire game. Seven points, seven rebounds and two blocks, but good inside defense. Boston couldn’t get much going to the rim in the second half with Ibaka on the floor.
- Can’t deny it: Derek Fisher has played some solid bench minutes the last week. Six points in 14 minutes.
- Fisher walked to the scoretable to check in Doc Rivers yelled at him, “When are you retiring? No retired players!”
- I love that Martin is showing a little more of an aggressive side offensively, especially in using his dribble to create for teammates. He had three more assists today, two coming off a drive.
- Jason Terry got booed as he checked in and was clearly caught off guard by it. Looked around with his arms out and gave a “What did I do?” kind of look. I think he must’ve forgotten what a thorn he was to the Thunder in the 2011 Western Finals.
- It makes me think too, wouldn’t it be great to just pick a random guy and make him enemy No. 1? Like Kawhi Leonard or Kyle Korver or something. Treat him like he’s just the WORST. Boo him when he checks in, every time he touches it, every time he gripes at a call. I don’t know why but this sounds hilarious to me.
- When Durant crossed over Garnett, KG had a look on his face after like, “Wooooooo he got me there.”
- Martin gets pretty incredible elevation on his jumper. It doesn’t seem like he should be able to get off the shots he does in traffic, but it’s because he gets up so well. And he’s 6-7, which we tend to forget.
- The high schooler who scored a game-winner in the wrong basket is a guest of the Thunder today, sitting next to Aubrey McClendon. Also, after the game Westbrook gave him his game-worn shoes off his feet and signed them.
- Doc on KD: “I’m a defensive guy, but I’ve given up on trying to figure out how to stop him. I’m not kidding. I’m not sure there is a way.”
- Doc on Perk: “He’s a great player to have on your team when you have great players. He knows what to tell them and he backs them up.” Doc said that Red Auerbach told him every team needs an “instigator” with Rivers saying Perk would probably be the captain on the All-Instigator team.
- Not sure how I feel about Jeff Green’s hair. I’m glad he’s in Boston so I don’t really have to worry too much about it.
- Avery Bradley is an outstanding ball pressure defender. One of the few guys I’ve ever seen actually be able to cut off a Westbrook drive.
- The Thunder survived a lot at the free throw line (27-33). Durant didn’t shoot well, but went 11-11 from the stripe.
Next up: At San Antonio on Monday.