Celtics Open up Summer League with Win
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Boston Celtics got off to a strong start for their 2012 Summer League campaign by knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder 73-65 Monday afternoon.
The Celtics were led by big performances from two of their most promising youngsters. E’Twaun Moore, who’s playing in his first pro summer league despite already having an NBA season under his belt, scored 16 points and tied for the game high in assists with four. First-round draft pick Jared Sullinger also had a strong performance, notching a game-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds.
Game 1 of Boston’s five-game schedule in Orlando began just the way the team had hoped. A balanced offensive attack and stellar defense helped the Celtics go on an 18-0 run in the first quarter while opening up a 21-8 lead with just less than 90 seconds remaining in the frame.
At that point of the contest, six different Celtics had already scored at least two points. Jamar Smith and Sean Williams each led the way with six points apiece in the first quarter and Boston held a 25-10 lead after the first 10 minutes.
The domination that Boston displayed in the first quarter dissipated quickly in the second stanza. Oklahoma City, led by a healthy dose of Perry Jones and former Boston College standout Reggie Jackson, charged back to cut the Celtics’ lead down to two, at 36-34, by halftime. Jones scored seven of his 16 points in the second period, while Jackson pitched in six.
Oklahoma City’s run caused Celtics summer league head coach Tyronn Lue to alter his lineup at the start of the second half. He inserted Sullinger into the starting lineup and it paid huge dividends as the final 20 minutes of action unfolded.
Jones and Jackson continued to dominate for the Thunder with a combined 10 points early in the third quarter, but Sullinger made sure he kept his team in the hunt for a win. Sullinger accounted for eight of his team’s final 10 points in the quarter during a 10-2 Celtics run. His spinning bank shot in the lane gave the Celtics a 51-50 lead heading into the final period.
Momentum was surely on Boston’s side, but Oklahoma City wouldn’t go away. The Thunder opened up the fourth quarter on a 5-0 run to take a 55-51 lead. Rather than calling a timeout to regroup his troops, Lue chose to let his youngsters play through the tough stretch. His decision turned out to be a wise one.
Sullinger immediately answered a 3-pointer from Oklahoma City with one of his own, and then Fab Melo, another 2012 first-round pick, showed off a soft shooting touch with a mid-range jumper from the top of the key. That quick 5-0 spurt put the Celtics back on top, and they never looked back from there.
Leading by four points with just more than three minutes remaining, Lue decided to bring the trio of Moore, Sullinger and Williams back into the game to close it out. The first-time head coach said that the decision was premeditated before he took the group out of the game just minutes before.
“I know we played them a lot in the third quarter so we wanted to just give them a quick break, just two minutes here and then try to get them back into the game,” Lue remarked. “But the [Thunder] went on a run and they played well with those guys on the bench. So I told them, we were up four, I told them if we score then stay on the bench, but if we don’t score then you three guys go back in. And they brought us home.”
That they did, particularly Sullinger and Moore. The duo combined to score Boston’s next nine points after they checked into the game, and every bucket was clutch. Their scoring helped the C’s build a nine-point lead with less than a minute remaining and the they went on to win by eight.
Moore and Sullinger were the two brightest spots for the Celtics, but plenty of other players contributed as well. Dionte Christmas had a fantastic afternoon and logged the game’s only double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He also tied for the game high in assists with four. JaJuan Johnson didn’t score many points, but he crashed the glass enough to grab eight boards. Melo also looked strong despite his modest stats of two points, two rebounds and two blocked shots.
Jackson and Jones led Oklahoma City with 19 and 18 points apiece, respectively. Lazar Hayward also had a strong performance with 18 points and nine rebounds. However, those three players were the only members of Oklahoma City’s team who scored more than six points in the game.
The Celtics will be back in action when they take on the Brooklyn Nets at 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. The Nets narrowly lost to the Orlando Magic on Monday, 92-88.