The Oklahoma City Thunder won in the Boston Garden last night, 97-88, improving to 12-2 on the year making them the best record in the NBA.
A three-pointer by Paul Pierce with 5:22 to play cut the Thunder lead to two but that would be as close as the Celtics would get. The Thunder would not execute down the stretch but it didn’t matter as they made tough shot after tough shot.
The Thunder made five more field goals the rest of the game, four of them were threes and two were daggers by Russell Westbrook who finished with 26 points on the night.
Westbrook’s first dagger was with 10 seconds left on the shot clock when the ball was swung around to him to the left wing. He drilled the off balance 26-footer to put Oklahoma City up 89-82 with 1:31 left. Timeout Celtics.
Then, after the Celtics answered with a three of their own, Westbrook went into cold-blooded mode with another three-point dagger with 51 seconds left in the game.
The Thunder tried to run an isolation at the top of the key for Kevin Durant (28 points) but Pierce had tight defense on him. Westbrook used Durant as a screen and dribbled around him to the right wing before firing up the stepback three with a hand in his face. Timeout Celtics.
This was the theme of the night. Whenever the Celtics would make a run to get back into the game, by executing their offense and taking care of the ball, the Thunder would come right back down and score in a way that made you say, “Well, you’re not going to beat them if they’re making that shot.”
This was the mismatch that we had last night when the old Celtics hosted the youthful exuberant Thunder and this is why the Thunder now have the best record in the NBA. They can make mistakes, not run an offense and gamble on defense and still have enough talent to come back down the court and overpower you, sucking your life away.
The Thunder made it look easy on defense last night too as they held a good Celtics’ offense to just 39 percent from the floor.
They set the tone early with Serge Ibaka down low making three blocks in the first quarter. Now the Celtics couldn’t count on Kevin Garnett scoring from the post (5-for-19 shooting for the game).
The Thunder wings had no problem keeping up with Ray Allen coming off screens. Allen has obviously lost a step and the Thunder are just so athletic they were completely unbothered by Allen’s off-ball movement. Allen went just 2-of-7 from the floor in the game.
The Celtics were forced to rely more on Pierce because the only decent looks they were getting were ones from dribble penetration plays by Pierce. Pierce looked to play his best game of the season so far, scoring 24 points.
Westbrook did his job staying in front of Rajon Rondo for most of the game and not letting him get free in the paint. Rondo had 12 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds in 40 minutes which is a good game, but the fact that he was not unleashed for a 14-plus assist night was a win for the Thunder.
Both Westbrook and Durant played over 40 minutes so the need for bench production didn’t play as high a priority as usually for the Thunder. James Harden had an off night going just 2-of-8 from the floor. This had a lot to do with how well Boston defends the pick-and-roll with weakside help especially by Garnett. The Thunder would have needed better secondary movement off the ball to beat the Celtics defense with the pick-and-roll but their offense is just too stagnant in that regard.
Instead, Oklahoma City shot a very high percentage on their jumpers including going 7-for-19 from deep. They also did well on long two-pointers with Durant leading the way making all four of his attempts from between 16-23 feet.
With Harden off, the Thunder received great production from Thabo Sefolosha who scored 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting including two three-pointers in the final minutes for Oklahoma City.
While it was no doubt a great win for this Thunder team they still exhibit some of the same problems that caused them to not get by the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs last season. When the game is close and defense is tougher, Oklahoma City doesn’t execute their offense well and has to rely on isolation scoring and stepback three-pointers. They made those shots tonight but when they are matched up with a team that can match their athleticism like the Miami Heat, their fortunes may not be the same.
Next game: Wednesday, Jan. 18 at Washington Wizards (1-12)