Celtics Heat Up Late, Defeat the Thunder in Final Frame
Game Recap: Thunder 94, Celtics 111
The Thunder led through the first three quarters of the game behind a strong defense and the dominant paint presence of Moses Brown. However, after struggling from behind the arc early, Boston caught its stride in the fourth quarter and surged ahead to take a commanding lead.
The Thunder opened up the game on a 14-2 run as Boston’s 3-point shooting got out to a frigid start making just one of its first 11 attempts. Thunder guard Lu Dort scored the Thunder’s first eight points on the way to a 10-point quarter to help OKC build up a lead as large as 12 points. Rather than continue to rely on the 3-point line, Boston answered with a 12-4 run of its own with points generated primarily from the paint as well as production from its bench who outscored its own starting unit 13 to eight. Still, by the end of the first quarter, the Thunder led 25-21.
A massive contributor to the Thunder’s offensive start was 7-foot-2 center Moses Brown. In the Thunder’s last game against Memphis on Thursday, Brown recorded the third fastest double-double in OKC history. On Saturday, he followed up that performance with the second fastest double-double reached in OKC history. His 17-point, 19-rebound double-double in the first two quarters also marked the most rebounds in a half by any Thunder player in OKC history and the most by a player in any half in the league this season.
“I just wanted to come out and set the tone with my energy and just being active around the basket,” said Brown. “Just knowing how to get space and knowing how to box out. Just utilizing my height and my strength.”
The Thunder’s defense continued to hold Boston to lackluster shooting numbers in the first two frames. By the half, the Celtics made just three of its 20 attempts from deep and shot just 36 percent from the field. Perhaps the biggest factor early was the defense the Thunder executed against Boston’s All-Star wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. By halftime, the duo combined for just six of 24 from the field and 2-for-11 from the 3-point line.
“We were doing great talking, being there helping when Brown and Tatum were trying to play one on one or having those situations,” said Thunder guard Théo Maledon. “That's something that we did great.”
After holding the Celtics to just 15 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line in the first half, the lid slowly lifted off the rim in the fourth quarter. Jaylen Brown poured in 13 points in the third frame to keep Boston’s offense alive as rookie point guard Maledon chipped in 11 of his own to keep the Thunder’s lead afloat.
Tatum, however, took the reins in the final frame as he converted on a pair of the Thunder’s untimely turnovers. Tatum, who finished with a game-high 27 points, tied the game a minute into the fourth quarter with a layup, but it was the Celtics’ newly acquired Luke Kornet who sank a pair of 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions that gave Boston its first lead of the game and began the barrage of 3-point shooting. After shooting a lackluster 15 percent from deep in the first half, the Celtics shot 50 percent in the second and closed the game on a commanding 29-8 run as the Thunder’s offense slowed significantly in the final frame.
“We kind of had the game in a good spot up until [Kornet] hit those two threes. That kind of opened the game up and they didn't really look back after that,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “But I thought defensively, really for about three quarters, we were pretty good and executed pretty well and even with Kornet, we made the adjustment. [Moses] did a good job after that point of kind of keeping him in check.”
Play of the Game
Thunder rookie Aleksej Pokuševski logged his ninth career start on Saturday and finished with six points and a team-high five assists. The highlight of his offensive performance took place in the third quarter. The 7-foot rookie faked a handoff to Maledon and instead split the defenders who miscommunicated on the switch. With a wide-open lane in front of him, Poku used his long strides to elevate without taking a dribble and send home a powerful one-handed dunk.
On the sidelines, his teammates could hardly contain themselves.
“I was just going for a layup and then I felt good about the dunk,” said Pokuševski. “I just went up there and I saw the reaction from the bench and I felt happy.”
Stat of the Night23
Before the Thunder’s matchup on Saturday, the Thunder announced that 14-year veteran Al Horford would not be active for the Thunder throughout the remainder of the season as the team prioritizes the minutes of its young, developing players. This opened the door for Moses Brown who took full advantage of the opportunity in front of him on Saturday.
In his 32 minutes, Brown finished the night with a 21-point, 23-rebound double-double which ties the most rebounds by any Thunder player in OKC history and makes him just the sixth Thunder player to record a 20-20 double-double. Of the four double doubles that Brown has recorded this season, three of them have been achieved in the first half.
“He just plays hard,” said Daigneault. “He competes every night and we have an expectation of competing. I thought our guys competed tonight and I thought he, in particular, did a good job but he does that every day.”
“He’s a guy that every game is playing 100 percent and that pays off for him,” said Pokuševski. “He’s a great guy, playing hard competing, playing with the team.”
Quotes of the Night
“Our communication, and the plan that we had for this game - a big pursuit game and make sure we're boxing out. We were doing great… sadly we didn't do it for 48 minutes, but it's something that we gotta try to keep having and have it for 48 minutes.”
“A lot of positives, but obviously not a 48-minute performance that we needed to go get the game.”
The Thunder will have a day off on Sunday before returning to action against Dallas on Monday and rounding out its four-game homestand with a matchup against Toronto on Wednesday.