By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com
Highlights: OKC at BOS
The Big Picture
Following a matinee in the Big Apple, the Thunder traveled to Beantown to face the Celtics on the second night of a back-to-back. The Thunder brought the juice from the very outset, forcing the defending Eastern Conference Champion Celtics and what seemed like the entire city of Boston to rise to the occasion.
Controlling the game with pace and tempo on offense and multiple shot contests on defense, the Thunder’s lead swelled to 15 midway through the third quarter. The experienced Celtics cut it back down to the halftime margin of seven by the close of the quarter with a 16-6 run. After Boston tied the game up at 107, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander checked back in and provided 10 of his 37 points in the final frame. However, the Celtics’ fourth quarter flurry gave Boston just enough of a lift down the stretch to outlast OKC 126-122. It was a valuable lesson for this young Thunder group on maintaining a lead especially in a hostile environment like TD Garden.
Nick: The Thunder’s defense was focused on hustling over screens, getting back in front of the ball and preventing the Celtics from getting any drive-kick-drive again action. The goal was to get Boston playing an isolation-heavy style and betting on the Thunder’s length and contests to force misses. In the first quarter, that strategy worked against the NBA”s best offense, who shot just 44 percent from the field, including 2-of-12 from 3-point range, where Boston is typically dominant. For the game, the Thunder held the Celtics to just 10-of-37 (27.0 percent) from deep, 12 percentage points below its season average.
Paris: Josh Giddey scooped up a missed shot by Marcus Smart and immediately erupted down the floor and finished a layup on the other end. In the next possession, Aleksej Pokuševski blocked a jumpshot by Jalen Brown and it sent Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the break for a layup in transition. Those no-huddle, fast-paced plays have been easy sparks for the Thunder’s offense in the early going and a key over the last few games.
Nick: Excellent sequence by Aleksej Pokuševski as he buried a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer at the top of the key to push his season average over 36 percent, then he made a putback dunk off a missed shot that released a gasp from the TD Garden crowd. The 20-year-old Pokuševski got the start at the five spot going up against the 36-year-old Al Horford and racked up nine points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in the first half alone. He finished with his second double-double of the season with 16 points and 14 rebounds along with three assists, three blocks and a steal in 37 intense minutes.
Paris: In a loose ball possession in front of the Thunder bench, the first to the floor was Kenrich “Kenny Hustle” Williams who kept it from going out of the sideline. The second to the floor – rookie big man Jaylin Williams who dove on the floor and protected the baseline to keep the ball in play. Both Williamses provided solid minutes in the second quarter for OKC. In just his third game in his career, Thunder rookie Jaylin Williams out of Arkansas stepped in and gave OKC eight minutes off the bench. Setting solid, physical screens and pulling down three ferocious rebounds – Williams provided exactly what was expected of him when he checks into the game. Additionally, Kenrich Williams came off the bench for OKC and in a matter of nine minutes, took a charge, dished out two assists and registered seven points.
Nick: On the road on the second night of a back to back, the Thunder’s substitution rotations were shorter and head coach Mark Daigneault was inserting players into the game based on matchups and feel. One such player was Aaron Wiggins, the second-year guard who has the physical tools to take on big time defensive matchups for stretches of the game. Wiggins was helpful on offense too, flushing home an emphatic one-handed put up slam dunk that sent shockwaves through the arena. Wiggins boxed out and added a huge defensive rebound a couple possessions later to help seal a stop for OKC.
Paris: Boston came into the game as the league leader in 3-pointers made per game and in the top three in 3-point percentage. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Thunder held Boston to just 6-of-29 from behind the arc – just 21 percent. OKC’s defensive pressure and multiple efforts have caused enough disruption for the Celtics’ shooters to take away their biggest offensive weapon and maintain a 96-89 lead heading into the final frame. For the game, the Thunder’s defense held Boston to just 27 percent from deep – 12 percent below its nightly average.
Paris: The Boston faithful erupted in a massive roar after Derrick White stole the ball and finished a layup in transition. Without skipping a beat, Lu Dort got the ball inbounds and sprinted up the floor to finish a layup on the other end to silence the crowd. In a hostile environment like TD Garden, the Thunder’s mental poise and focus to withstand the surges of momentum for Boston have been critical to stay in the ball game in crunch time.
Nick: After the Celtics took its first lead since the opening minutes of the first quarter at 108-107, Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t freeze, but rather played with speed and aggression to get all the way to the rim and score a bucket, plus the foul. It was a poised response in the face of a raucous atmosphere that teetered on every possession. The Thunder couldn’t quite close out the victory, but Gilgeous-Alexander finished with his ninth 30-point game of the season, and his 19th 30-point game in his last 26 outings. Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 37 points, four rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a blocked shot on 13-of-26 shooting.
Quotes of the Night
Jalen “J-Dub” Williams on putting Boston on their heels throughout the night…
“It just lets us know that we can come play with anybody. Being the aggressors – you don't ever want to get punched first. So being able to play with them is definitely a confidence boost.”
Mark Daigneault on the experience of playing in the atmosphere of TD Garden…
“The atmosphere was good because of how we played we squeezed them and gave them all they could handle and put ourselves in a situation where we then had to face great team against with a great home crowd. We just weren't quite good enough tonight but a lot of good things we can take from it. There's a lot of ups and downs this season. A lot of things from yesterday that we can improve on a lot of things from today that we're really positive so we're just gonna keep improving getting better.
Following the back-to-back in New York and Boston, the Thunder will have a day off in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday before taking on the Wizards on Wednesday.