Thunder Used Corner 3-Pointers to Create Spacing, Beat Celtics
A play that typified the Thunder’s 119-104 victory over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night was a second-quarter sequence involving guards James Harden and Royal Ivey.
Harden used a screen at the top of the key to break free and drive the lane. With defenders coming toward him, Harden swung the ball cross-court to Ivey, who stood alone in the right corner. Without hesitating, Ivey calmly rose and fired from behind the arc for three of his eight points on the evening.
Head Coach Scott Brooks said the Thunder's 72-point first half, which featured a 30-3 run, was made possible by plays like that one.
“Moving the ball and making shots,” Brooks said, when asked what sparked the scoring barrage. “We’re a team that should continue to get better in those areas. Spacing, moving, moving the basketball and moving our bodies … and we made eight 3s. That in itself made it tough on them defensively. With our ball-handling and our ability to attack the basket, we put a lot of pressure on teams. Making eight 3s in the first half, you can’t ask for better shooting.”
Part of the reason those 3-point shots were able to fall was because of the Thunder’s ability to get into the lane again and again. Whether it was Harden kicking to Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant finding Daequan Cook on a secondary fast break, the Thunder used penetration to create seams and passing lanes to get open looks. In fact, part of the strategy was also to use that dribble-drive action to find open 3-point shooters in the corners because those are typically high-percentage looks.
“They are really big,” Durant said of the 3-point shots from the corner. “They hurt the defense and you know we work on it every single day. So it was a matter of time before we start getting better and better at it.”
Cook, who made three corner 3-pointers, and Ivey, who made two, were catalysts for the massive run in the first and second quarters that erased a 10-point deficit and created a 23-point lead. Brooks noted that those corner 3-pointers are the best, most efficient 3-point shot in basketball and that the Thunder shoots in the high 30s in terms of percentage from that part of the floor.
Next up, the Thunder will host the Los Angeles Lakers to cap a five-game home stand at Chesapeake Energy Arena. In the final game before the All-Star break, Brooks and his squad will need to put their entire focus and effort into this one and not look ahead to a weekend off. Harden, a Los Angeles native, agreed.
“It’s going to be tough,” Harden said after the Celtics game. “(The Lakers are) playing well right now. They beat Portland and they’re in a tough one right now in Dallas. We have to be ready. Kobe (Bryant) is scoring the ball at an all-time high. Their bigs are playing well, so we just have to be ready. It’s the last game before All-Star break, so you see teams getting sluggish and getting ready for the break. But we’re at home and we have to protect home court.”