Thunder Comes Out on Top in Back-and-Forth Battle
Game Recap: Thunder 119, Celtics 115
The Thunder strung together 48 minutes of competitive basketball in the midst of a back-and-forth, low-scoring contest. Boston refused to go down without a fight which set up an exciting, clutch game that required a full-team effort, clutch free throws and hustle down the stretch.
During the injury and adversity-ridden stretch OKC endured throughout the month of April, it never wavered in its identity. Playing as a team, playing aggressively and competing for 48 minutes are all core tenants for Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault’s squad and coming off of a tough loss to Philly the night before, the Thunder had an opportunity to put its resiliency and identity to the test inside of TD Garden on Tuesday.
“It's been a rough stretch we've lost some close ones we've lost some blowouts. We've had some games where things haven't broken our way and I just give them so much credit for the way that we bounce back up dust ourselves off hold together.”
The Thunder opened the game with the same aggression and determination to hunt paint touches on each possession that it demonstrated the night before against the 76ers. Rather than rack up points in the paint, that steady attack to the basket resulted in trips to the free throw line for the Thunder who benefitted heavily from the charity stripe from the very outset going a perfect 8-for-8 in the first frame.
Playing without Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, it was Payton Pritchard and Jaylen Brown who were responsible for the majority of Boston’s offense throughout the game. As Boston’s shot a lackluster 18 percent from the 3-point line in the first half, Pritchard and Brown combined for 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting to keep the Celtics afloat. By the end of the night, Brown led all scorers with 39 points while Pritchard logged 28 of his own.
Contrary to the Celtics source of offense, the Thunder received contributions from every single player to touch the floor. By halftime, all 10 players who logged minutes for OKC had scored and it would be this collective effort that would pay dividends down the stretch for OKC as Boston regained a lead in the third quarter.
With the score tied at 78 going into the final frame, the Thunder began a series of timely 3-pointers and hustle plays to regain and maintain its lead. Ty Jerome went 2-for-2 from the 3-point line in the final frame on the way to 15 points off the bench, but it was the scoring outburst of Darius Bazley that sent the game back up to an 11-point margin midway through the fourth. Bazley finished the night with 21 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter alone including a pair of back-to-back hustle plays where the second year forward rebounded his own miss and tipped in the offensive board.
“I thought he was aggressive all night and he really took it to another level in the second half, the fourth quarter specifically,” said Daigneault.”
After a layup from Théo Maledon with a minute and half to play, the Thunder held what seemed to be a comfortable 10-point lead. However, the Celtics microwaved seven quick points in less than a minute to put pressure on the Thunder’s lead. It started with a 3-pointer from Pritchard, then Evan Fournier sneakily stole the Thunder’s inbounds pass and immediately laid the ball in to bring the game to five points. In the next possession, Brown snagged a loose ball from the Thunder that resulted in free throws for Smart. Suddenly, the Thunder held just a 3-point lead with 50 seconds left to play.
On the next inbounds, the Thunder looked to get the ball up the floor quickly against Boston’s disruptive full-court press. Dort caught the ball in the backcourt and received immediate pressure from Smart.
Dort floated a dangerous pass across the half line to Bazley who elevated, stretched and secured the basketball as Fournier sold out on the pass. As he turned around, Bazley was met with a clear lane to the basket. Without hesitation, the 6-foot-9 forward accelerated and elevated for a right-handed slam to send it back to a two-possession ball game with just under 40 seconds remaining.
The Thunder had a window of breathing room, holding onto a two-possession lead until Brown sank a fading, corner 3-pointer with five seconds left in the game to cut it to three points and sent Fournier to the free throw line on the next possession after fouling him on the inbounds.
Anticipating that Fournier would make the first shot and intentionally miss the second in an effort to generate three quick points, Coach Daigneault put both Tony Bradley and Isaiah Roby into the game to protect the glass. As predicted, Fourier missed the second shot, but Roby held a sturdy box out and secured the rebound which forced the Celtics to foul. Roby sank the two dagger free throws on the other end to send the game to four points with just 2.6 seconds remaining.
“He got the ball really fast and put it up really quick and the coaching staff made us ready for it and I was able to secure the rebound,” said Roby. “We should free throws every day. So, free throws – I like my chances.”
“I thought the competitive spirit was 48 minutes long. We hung in there. There were a lot of ups and downs in the game like there always are and the guys did a great job,” said Daigneault. “I thought down the stretch and in the situational part of the game, they kept making shots and extending the game, we had a couple plays we can learn from but I thought our guys kept their poise, and more importantly kept their competitiveness.”
Play of the Game
For the second-straight night, the Thunder utilized the versatile Roby at the five, this time going up against the smaller frontline of Boston. Roby utilized his size and quickness to his advantage at a time when his team needed it most.
After setting a fake-screen for Jerome out by the half-court line, Roby faded from the action as his man went to double-screen. Wide open, Jerome made the simple pass to the second year forward who took a single bounce and elevated for a left-handed slam.
Stat of the Night36
Throughout the night, it was the free throw line that created a steady flow of offense for the Thunder who held a definitive advantage through all four quarters. Determined to touch the paint on nearly every possession, OKC drew considerable contact and finished the night with 36 free throw attempts compared to Boston’s 25. Dort, who finished with a team-high 24 points, set a new career high with 13 attempts of his own.
“We want to make aggressive mistakes. For young players we don't want to be a timid team and we're starting to reap some of the benefits of some of the early investments we made in letting these guys do that,” said Daigneault. “That's a stable source of offense moving forward. If you've got guys that when they get an advantage they can create contact and go up and draw fouls and we obviously did a good job of that tonight.”
Quotes of the Night
“It was a great team win. All the guys contributed; they all played a role. We did a good job just moving the ball and taking the right shots and at the end we didn’t give up and we just had to finish the game.”
“We just want to keep improving everyday win or lose, whatever the score is. I heard coach say there were a lot of good wins behind the scenes, and we just want to keep adding.”
After the quick back-to-back in the northeast, the Thunder return to Oklahoma City where they’ll have a day off before returning to action inside of Chesapeake Energy Arena to face the Pelicans on Thursday. The game will be the start of a welcomed, prolonged four-game homestand for the Thunder who spend six of its last seven games on the road.
Team W @BazleyDarius | 21PTS, 10REB, 4AST@aleksejpokusevs | 12PTS, 6REB, 4AST@luthebeast | 24PTS#MosesBrown | 8PTS, 7REB#ThéoMaledon | 6PTS, 5AST@williamskenrich | 8PTS@ToBrad1 | 4PTS, 2REB@roby_isaiah | 15PTS, 7REB@Sviat_10 | 6PTS, 4AST@tyjerome_ | 15PTS, 3AST pic.twitter.com/BAjLVLr3Y9— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 28, 2021