The Celtics started off their four-game road trip with a win in Oklahoma City, at times dominating the Thunder and then holding on late despite a furious comeback attempt from the home squad.
The C’s were up by more than 20 in the third quarter only to see the Thunder cut the lead to six. Well, to be more accurate I should say that Kevin Durant (who finished the night with 34 points) and Russell Westbrook cut the lead to six. The two players were responsible for all 27 points the Thunder scored in the third quarter as they cut a 21-point halftime deficit to just nine heading into the final quarter. But Doc Rivers went to a unique group (more on that in a second) in the fourth to stave off the comeback attempt and help the C’s win their fifth straight.
Here’s what to take from tonight’s showing.
The Bench: Well, something about that Chicago game must have woken this bench up, because finally some other people outside Glen Davis are contributing. The Celtics didn’t have huge nights from any single player (though Paul Pierce had 17 and Ray Allen scored 19 on a solid shooting performance), but they got a great lift from their second unit in outscoring OKC’s bench 33-12.
More telling than that, however, was that Doc went with a unit compromised of four bench players (and the hot-hand of Ray Allen) just when it looked like the Thunder had all the momentum in the fourth quarter. With Semih Erden, Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson and Glen Davis out there, the Celtics could have wilted and let OKC back into the game for good. But thanks to a few key buckets from Davis, some stellar play from Erden, a beautiful layup from Robinson and a Allen three to cap things off, the Boston Bench Mob actually left the court in favor of the starters at the five minute mark with the lead at 12 instead of nine.
Doc obviously trusts his bench, and he didn’t waver even when it was struggling. Robinson was ice cold through the first five games, but has found a little groove in the last two contests. Marquis Daniels was quiet as well, but likewise has come on strong in the last two games and made a huge impact on both sides of the floor. Erden had some key boards and was aggressive tonight, getting to the free throw line and earning his nine points. He has responded to the opportunity he has been given with Shaquille O’Neals injury and continued to improve each time he sees the floor. And, finally, Davis’ jumper has been on all year, and even when he doesn’t put a large dent in the scoring column he finds ways to contribute.
This is the bench we thought we would see all year long, and it is only going to get better when Delonte West is back and Shaq is healthy again.
The Defense: I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out an impressive defensive effort from Boston, even if it got a little hairy there at the end of the game.
Let’s put things in perspective for a second here. The Thunder are a high-scoring team that had come into this one averaging over 100 points a game. In fact, defense was their biggest problem (something Kevin Durant had complained about already as his team struggled somewhat early), but offensively OKC was clicking.
Well, the Celtics only scored 92 points, and still won this one convincingly. That is because Boston held the Thunder to just 83 points, their lowest total since scoring 84 in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last January (We’re talking regular season, meaning that is excluding their Game 1 loss to the Lakers in the playoffs). The Thunder were held below 90 points in only 10 regular season games last season (once by the Celtics, mind you), so it is a rare occurrence.
The C’s got in the passing lanes and disrupted the Thunder offense,grabbing nine steals and forcing 18 turnovers on the night. The Celtics also managed to limit the Thunder’s opportunities at the line, cutting their league-leading 35 attempts a game in half in this one. And while Kevin Durant shot 50 percent from the floor and was easily above the 30-point plateau, no one else on OKC really stepped up. Westbrook’s 16 point night mostly came as he shot the Thunder back into this one when they were already down 20, and Nenad Krstic was the only other player in double figures for OKC. I know the Thunder were shorthanded without Jeff Green, but that is still an impressive performance from the Celtics on D.
One thing, though—where is James Harden? Dude has been a ghost out there this season.
Holding On: What is is with this team and holding onto leads? The Celtics almost let another disappear in this one, and have had trouble keeping ahead all season.
I don’t know if it is getting lax or thinking ahead with a game tomorrow night in Dallas, but a veteran team should know how to close out games. It is understandable that another side would make a run, particuarly one as good as OKC, but good teams don’t let others back in a game. Still, I think that is something that comes with time. The only troublesome thing is that this has been a burden on this team dating back to last year.
Cole Aldrich: Not every lottery pick is a slam dunk. I’m sure the Memphis Grizzlies can remind you of that (Thabeet, Reeves, Swift) or the Clippers (Olowakandi, Wilcox, Miles). Or a slew of other teams.
Still, you generally want to get a good return for a high draft pick. And while Cole Aldrich wasn’t taken as high as those other players, the No. 11 pick has to show promise. He didn’t show much tonight.
Yes, he is a rookie. And yes, he has had his playing time jostled thanks to injury up front for the Thunder. But I can’t help but think that he looks like a failure waiting to happen. For a team still looking for a big man to go along with its impressive roster (though Krstic was solid tonight), that is a troubling thought.But hey, he still looks better than Robert Swift ever did.