November 28, 2008, the Oklahoma City Thunder had just lost their 14th straight game, David Stern is sweltering at yet another new market team crumbling (see: Vancouver.) That streak washed the very next game. That 14-game stint has been a distant memory for years now, but entering Tuesday night, that streak was on the brink of extinction.
In Tuesday’s matchup, the Thunder had a much-needed return of Lu Dort, the Boston Celtics were out of Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker — this was their chance. In this opportunity, Oklahoma City capitalized, flipping their murky streak with a 119-115 win at the Garden, good for their first win of the month. The Thunder still has a fifth-place hold in the lottery standings, but now with the win, they are just a half-game out of the sixth spot, and two games from the fourth. Celtics’ management must be pondering on Brad Stevens following the loss as the club now stands at 32-30 on the year, tied for the 6th seed in the East.
Oklahoma City carried on their sloppiness from yesterday in the first quarter’s infancy stages, coughing up three turnovers in the game’s first two minutes. Despite this, the Thunder held a 5-2 lead as strong transition defense resulted in an Evan Fournier blown layup and a rejected Semi Ojeleye layup. Boston snuck in a quick 8-7 lead a few possessions later but once the Thunder cleaned up their early ball-handling issues, they resorted to Moses Brown high-ball screens for easy looks inside en route to an 8-0 spurt — forcing a Brad Stevens timeout. The Thunder weren’t rattled by the break-in the action, actually surfacing a 20-10 lead a few minutes later, but a pair of back-to-back Payton Pritchard threes whittled the margin down. As respective teams trickled in their second units, the Boston Celtics wiped this game to one possession entering the two-minute mark, but as Isaiah Roby splashed a left-wing three at the buzzer — they were out 29-24. This Thunder’s glaring shot disparity from the two and three was glaring as the Thunder scored more points off threes (12) than points in the paint (20,) for perspective, 20 of their 26 first-quarter points Monday came in the paint.
Oklahoma City and Boston’s first three field goals all came inside the basket — but after five consecutive Thunder points, they reclaimed an 11-point, 41-30 lead. Both sides stagnated from the nine-minute mark to the midway point with a combined seven points as the Thunder shot a blank 0-of-5 while the Celtics shot 2-of-8. Just as the first quarter panned out, Boston slowly eroded Oklahoma City’s lead as time passed, downing an 11-4 runoff to nine-straight Thunder misses being out just four. Lu Dort helped send a monsoon of buckets Boston’s way, sending an and-one layup in for what became a quick-fire 7-0 run, keeping the heat up 55-49 at intermission.
In a see-saw battle first half, the Thunder and Celtics nearly matched each other with 18 and 19 made field goals, while five Oklahoma City hits came from deep to Boston’s four. Given the close-cut nature of this game, any small advantage made the difference — that sentiment rested at the foul line. Oklahoma City dominated at the charity stripe sinking 14-of-17 (82.4%) attempts to Boston’s 7-of-8 (87.5%) platter, ultimately stocking the difference.
The Thunder strutted right back into the second half with a bang, etching a 6-0 run off a Lu Dort and Pokusevski threes to upscale their hold back to eleven. It took until the midway mark for the Celtics to deal damage but off a Theo Maledon turnover, Jaylen Brown coasted in for an and-one layup to draw the game to two points, knotting the game at 69 a possession later. Boston drew their first lead since the first with a 76-73 lead at the 2-minute, 55-second mark, but after an exchange of three changes, the contest was 78 all entering the fourth.
Mark Daigneault and Brad Stevens placed hybrid units in to start the fourth, leaving notable starters Lu Dort and Jaylen Brown out for an extra breather. Lead changes traversed until Oklahoma drilled in two straight threes, highlighted by a 32-foot Ty Jerome deep-bomb, to strike a four-point lead. This brief seam of a momentum shift was salted away hastily as a circus Luke Kornet tip-in fizzled in with five Jaylen Brown points chained the game to 90 off a 7-3 run, even sniping the lead a play later off a Marcus Smart free throw. Thunder sophomores Darius Bazley and Lu Dort took leadership roles in their drought, piling a 7-0 run off a Dort three and two Bazley lay-ins. Boston seemed on their last leg after Luke Kornet shot a blanketed mid-range — but it popped in. Kornet slammed an alley-oop to trim the game to two, but after four made Thunder free throws, the game of cat-and-mouse was back.
Oklahoma City erupted back into action tacking on a Ty Jerome 29-footer and a Bazley layup for a 106-95 advantage wielding 2 minutes, 55 seconds to go. Oklahoma City held onto their double-digit lead with a minute to go but after a Payton Pritchard three and two Thunder turnovers — the Celtics cut the game to 110-107 in a matter of fifteen seconds. The Thunder almost paved a third botched possession off the inbounds but after an eagle-armed catch from Darius Bazley, he soared inside for a two-handed jam. Payton Pritchard coated the game back to three off two free throws, and with 30.8 seconds and a 112-109 game — the Celtics were still in distance.
After an advanced basketball, Theo Maledon received the inbound before Marcus Smart made a mind-boggling foul to put Maledon at the stripe for two — bang-bang — five-point game. Jaylen Brown came down on his left wrist after Lu Dort hounded him en route to a layup, but he still sank both tries. Theo Maledon evaded the inbound pressure of the inbound hitting Darius Bazley, and after broken coverage, Isaiah Roby was hidden right under the rim for a jam — 116-111, 16.8 seconds to go. This game looked over as Evan Fournier shanked a three ending with a Lu Dort layup, but after a Jaylen Brown left-corner prayer — the game was at three points with 5.1 left. As Ty Jerome inbounded the ball from the left hash, Evan Fournier swam around Bazley for a steal, ending with Baze hacking Fournier for a pair of free throws. As Fournier drained his first try the age-old question of make-or-miss arose — he elected to miss. Fournier left the free throw with little heat, posting Roby to the line for two. Roby drilled the first.. and after a couple of bounces — it was over. Oklahoma City won the game.
At the end of the Thunder’s fourth-quarter pillaging, the roster had drained a season-high 41 points in the quarter off of 13-of-21 shooting (61.9%) and a 5-of-8 clinic from outside (62.5%.) Boston hung right in with 37 points of their own, but a mere 4-of-15 shooting (26.7%) from three took the life out of the roster.
“It was a great team win. All the guys contributed… At the end, we didn’t give up, just had to finish the game, make good decisions. That’s what we did,” Lu Dort added postgame. “[I] actually I saw it [the losing-streak] today and I told Shai yo we are winning today.” That they did.
This win came as a collective. Oklahoma City posted their second-largest sample of turnovers Tuesday, recording 27, and with just 25 assists, on paper, they should’ve been out. The Thunder stuck right with the game shooting in the high forties from the floor, and a 13-of-30 clip from three (43.3%,) they had a shot. Even with the piping three, Boston’s 16 extra field goals meant, the three wasn’t enough — welcome back the free throw. Oklahoma City lived from the foul line from start to finish, ending the game with 36 attempts, buying 28.
Lu Dort lifted the Thunder throughout the game with 24 points (5-of-14 FG) and 4 rebounds. Dort embodied the gritty style of ball showcased Tuesday crashing inside en route to 13 free throws, hitting 11.
Darius Bazley had the inklings off on off-game Tuesday, but with a 13-point fourth quarter, the 20-year-old played superstar in closing the game for a 21-point (8-of-15 FG), 10 rebound double-double. Baze looked in discomfort with 6 turnovers in the game, but in the Thunder’s most pivotal streaks, he was the guy. Bazley’s perseverance on drives has been the talk of the town since his return, and it very well was the reason why Oklahoma City pulled this one out.
Isaiah Roby and Ty Jerome finished with 15 points off the bench using polarizing playstyles to net results. Roby held the interior for his 15 (5-of-7 FG,) hitting all but one shot in the paint while snagging down 7 rebounds in 26 minutes. For Jerome, his streetball play of hoisting wacky jumpers and facing benefits later paid off. Jerome hit 3-of-5 triples on the night, later moving inside once defenders tightened their distance.
Aleksej Pokusevski had a ray of confidence in his 12-point game (5-of-12 FG), adding on 6 rebounds and 4 assists on the night. Poku took a flurry of point-blank shots this game where little room was given yet he still made it look like an open gym.
Oklahoma City’s defensive stands were, by all means, the difference-maker. The Thunder forced the Celtics into a low forty shooting night while smothering them into an 11-of-49 night from downtown, that’s a paltry 22.3-percent.
Jaylen Brown recorded 39 points (13-of-26 FG) for Boston while Payton Pritchard tallied 28 points (9-of-16 FG,) but outside of those two — the Celtics scrapped out just 19-of-55 tries (34.5%.)
Next up, the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-41) will venture back to the ‘Peake to face the New Orleans Pelicans (27-34.)