Game Recap: Thunder 111, Celtics 112
In a game that saw 20 lead changes and 11 ties, it came down to turnovers, offensive rebounds and missed opportunities at the rim. The Thunder fought to the very end, but came up short in the waning seconds.
Although the game ultimately came down to the wire, the Thunder took control in the first quarter. Danilo Gallinari got the Thunder’s offense humming early by making himself available early and often in the post. Thunder guards sent the ball to him inside on four consecutive possessions as he exploited mismatches on Boston’s smaller perimeter defenders on his way to nine points in the first quarter.
Consequently, the Thunder dominated early in the paint with a 14-4 advantage in the first twelve minutes. An edge in the paint coupled with five offensive rebounds gave the squad enough of a head start to withstand the sharp shooting of Boston and end the quarter on a 10-0 run. This trend continued for the Thunder in the second quarter continuing to finish strong in the lane leading up to a 24-12 scoring advantage in the paint leading up to the half.
The Thunder went into intermission with a 61-52 lead behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who racked up 13 points, Danilo Gallinari with 14 and Dennis Schröder with 12.
The tide shifted in the third quarter. Boston erupted out of the half on a 7-1 run igniting momentum for the remainder of the quarter. Headlined by Jayson Tatum who after only scoring seven points in the first half, put up 12 alone in the third frame by getting loose in transition along with a perfect 2-2 performance from the 3-point line.
“The NBA has a lot of good players and he’s one of them,” said Schröder. “He’s an All-Star, he deserves it, and we didn’t contain him very well but we’re going to look at film and then we’re going to get better at it.”
The rebounding numbers took a turn in the third as well with Boston yanking down seven offensive rebounds compared to one from the Thunder. By the end of the quarter, Boston outscored the Thunder 32-23.
“To start the third, they regained some momentum, got control and got right back in the game very quickly,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “We got through that third quarter and played better, but I thought that third quarter really allowed them to certainly get some control of the game.”
Nonetheless, the game was knotted up at 84 going into the final quarter. What followed was five lead changes and four ties in the opening four minutes. For every smooth mid-range jumper from Schröder or Paul, Boston answered with a bucket of its own.
The shots stalled for the Thunder down the stretch. Missed opportunities around the basket coupled with untimely turnovers gave the Celtics the advantage it needed to push the game to a three-possession differential.
Even then, the Thunder clawed its way into a winnable position. A timely 3-pointer from Gilgeous-Alexander in transition brought the game to three points with just under five minutes left in the ball game.
After three possessions of offense strung together for the Thunder along with an intensified defensive effort on the Celtic’s guards put the Thunder in a position to pull off a comeback.
The Thunder cut Boston’s lead down to three after Chris Paul drove in for a layup with 16 seconds left on the clock. Boston immediately called a timeout to advance the ball and draw up a controlled offensive possession without a shot clock. On the inbounds, Gordon Hayward shook free from his defender and went in for what looked like an easy bucket at the rim until Dennis Schröder elevated and erased the shot sending the ball in the opposite direction.
Steven Adams scooped up the loose change and flicked it to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who accelerated down the floor with 12 seconds remaining in the game. Once across the half line, SGA, who was guarded by Hayward, picked up a second defender in Marcus Smart who jumped in to help. In doing so, Smart reached in and poked the ball free from Gilgeous-Alexander with five seconds left forcing the Thunder to foul.
“He made a great play. Give him credit,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan on Smart’s steal. “It was a broken floor situation, and if he doesn’t get it, Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] is going to go by him, because he’s lunging and he’s out of position, but he made a great play and certainly took away the opportunity to at least cut it to one or tie.”
Play of the Game
Chris Paul continues to connect with Nerlens Noel above the rim. In the first half, the All-Star point guard accelerated by Kemba Walker at the top of the key and immediately gathered and brought the ball over the head of Marcus Smart who came over to help.
Seeing that Paul was free in his comfortable midrange shooting zone, Boston defenders helped up to try to deter an easy look. As a result, Paul merely flicked the ball up above the rim where Nerlens Noel, who had snuck behind the defense during the shuffle, could easily jam it home.
Stat of the Night21
Points off turnovers- Boston capitalized on the Thunder’s turnovers. Although OKC only gave up one more turnover than Boston, the Celtics converted those mishaps into 21 points compared to seven for the Thunder. Thirteen of Boston’s points off turnovers came in the second half off of six Thunder turnovers.
“We didn’t have a lot of turnovers, but the ones that we did turnover, certainly they did a really good job capitalizing,” said Donovan. “I thought in transition when we were either coming out of some missed shots or turnovers, they had numbers a lot of the times and we didn’t do quite a good enough job of getting back.”
Quotes of the Night
“We always play well when we stick to our identity. Obviously, we’re not perfect, we have lapses where we don’t, we’re not as intense defensively as we need to be, and team’s make a run, but that’s the game of basketball, it’s ups and downs, and it just wasn’t enough tonight.” –Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
“It was a tough game. We had the chance to win the game. We had a very good first half. Second half wasn't that good, but credit to them.” –Danilo Gallinari
The Thunder have one more game at home before its final matchup leading up to All-Star break. On Tuesday, the Thunder will host San Antonio to wrap up its four-game homestand and then head to the Big Easy for a tilt against the Pelicans.