In what was an instant classic the OKC Thunder collected their 20th road win behind the mastery of Chris Paul. Grades serve up the details.
What a game! The OKC Thunder grabbed their 20th road win in yet another clutch time victory. This game had everything as the Celtics and Thunder brought scrappiness and playoff-type intensity. Make no mistake this was a HUGE win.
A late pregame decision led to OKC Thunder leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missing his first game as a pro. SGA suffered a hip contusion in the Knicks match.
Terrance Ferguson replaced him in the starting rotation to keep the rhythm of the reserves. In the opening frame, it didn’t hurt the system as the Thunder took an early 29-26 lead.
An interesting new trend for OKC is while they’ve played better opening and in third quarters they’ve suddenly been terrible in the second quarter. That was the case in this match as OKC couldn’t find the bottom of the net watching as repeatedly bunnies failed to fall.
In the win over the Knicks, the Thunder turned the ball over a total of FOUR times. Today they had 10 turnovers by halftime. The combination of a cold offense and this second quarter trend found the Celtics up by 11 at the half after a 37-23 frame.
Clearly was missing their best scorer and his absence was most noticeable in the second quarter. All season Gilgeous-Alexander has played within himself and arguably this was the first time the fanbase could see how much he affects the overall flow of the offense and the reliability of the defense. He’s often on the floor for big stretches of the second and he sure was missed today.
The Thunder came out of the lockers with a different mindset or more accurately Chris Paul came out and simply refused to let this one slip away. A 31-21 third quarter had the Thunder right back in the mix.
The end of the game was so intense it seriously felt like a playoff game. As the lead vacillated back and forth it began to feel like whoever had the ball last would win.
To emphasize how tight this game was at the 5:00 minute mark the Celtics led 98-97 — so only seven and six points were scored from that point forward as both clubs ramped up their defensive intensity.
In the closing minutes, the Thunder had several opportunities to win. On one play Dennis Schroder was open for a 3-pointer but inexplicably passed the ball back to CP3 with no time on the clock forcing him to heave it. Steven Adams had two free throws to ice it and missed both but Paul got the rebound. Then he missed a shot. With the Celtics up by one and 13.8 seconds on the clock, it felt like this might be a heartbreaking loss.
INSTEAD—- CP3 played excellent defense on the inbound trapping Kemba and Dennis Schroder came in to steal the ball and lay it in and put the Thunder up by one with 8.5 seconds left on the clock.
There was plenty of time remaining and the Celtics elected to go with their new ‘it man’ Tatum but the Thunder defense specifically by Chris Paul on Tatum was incredible and then Dort closed out on Kemba to make sure he couldn’t get up a quick shot.
Arguably, the most satisfying win of the season!
On to player grades.