With Dave Bliss placing his second game as Head Coach, the Oklahoma City Thunder fell short in their comeback efforts at the Garden, slipping to the Boston Celtics 111-105. For the Thunder, the loss pins them to 10 losses on the season, now resting at 6-10. In the case of the Celtics, their win swings them above the 500-mark, clinging to a 9-8 record.
The Celtics’ wide array of scoring came early-and-often as the group mounted a brief double-digit lead in the first quarter before a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepback at the buzzer set off a 30-23 Boston lead through one.
Boston’s double-digit lead made a reappearance at the ten-minute mark of the second quarter, and it never went away as with the tandem of Enes Kanter and Jayson Tatum — the duo churned out the team’s first 16 points. Oklahoma City’s second-quarter points came in bunches as a two apiece from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey inches the game to 11 before a combination of threes from Lu Dort and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl dropped the deficit to a baker’s dozen with a minute to go. By half, the Thunder found themselves down 13, 58-45.
Oklahoma City entrusted Darius Bazley with scoring duties to begin the second half, however, the 21-year-old caught a coldspell. In the forward’s first three minutes of play, he logged an 0-of-4 shot chart to plant the seeds of a 10-3 Celtics push — moving the pendulum 20 points in Boston’s direction. In an impromptu setup, Josh Giddey took Baze’s gig as the top scoring option as the Aussie added three-consecutive catch-and-shoot threes to shave the game to 14. The issue — Boston clapped back with a 13-2 run, staking a 25-point lead at the five-minute mark. Fueled by seven points from Ty Jerome and a pair of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl triples, Oklahoma City stripped Boston’s lead to 15 off of a closing 18-8 run. By the start of the fourth, Boston held a 89-74 lead.
The Celtics fended off multiple pushes for a single-digit contest during the course of the final frame, but a Jeremiah Robinson-Earl reverse layup coupled with a JRE 10-foot putback sent the game to nine with 3:53 to play. The Celtics snapped back with a pair of Jayson Tatum foul shots a play later, but the Thunder continued to snap back into form, responding with two Lu Dort free throws and a Josh Giddey stepback two possessions later. The game looked like a prime case of too little, too late for the Thunder as the Celtics had a 109-97 stronghold inside a minute, however, Oklahoma City stepped up to the plate. The Thunder dwindled the game to nine points following a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander free-throw split turned to a Bazley putback, and with a missed Sam Hauser triple a play later — Oklahoma City was back in business. Kenrich Williams took the ball coast-to-coast off the misfire to cut the game to seven, and after an Aaron Neismith kicked ball — Lu Dort canned a triple to drain the game to four. Ime Udoka couldn’t call a timeout fast enough. In the final 10 seconds, a successful inbound for the Celtics netted Jayson Tatum two free throws, and in a last-second inbound, a Marcus Smart steal put the game away. Boston stood atop 111-105 at the buzzer.
“You’ve got to credit the guys for just staying focused and continuing to try to find solutions, not splinter, sticking together and trying to find a way to turn the game and again put ourselves in a spot where we had a chance,” said Dave Bliss.
Oklahoma City found themselves in an all too familiar game of chase, slicing a 25-point deficit to a mere four in 18 minutes — and the box score would reflect so, too. The Thunder ended the night with a 40.6-percent hit rate from the floor, but their real money maker rested from deep, canning 18-of-42 triples (42.9%) en route to better efficiency than their twos.
Former Thunder members Dennis Schroder and Al Horford exchanged pleasantries with their former teammates Saturday as members Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Aleksej Pokusevski, among others, were seen with the Celtics’ newest additions. As for their respective performances — both former Bricktown Boys rose to the occasion.
Dennis Schroder stemmed off a decorative 29 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists during Saturday’s contest, riding the tails of a 36-minute minute palate to do so. Schroder lit the Thunder up from all areas for a 13-of-22 shot chart that involved three triples, a pair of mid range jumpers, and eight finishes at the rims. Remarkably, Schroder failed to reach the foul line in play, but the 28-year-old more than made up for the free-throw disparity.
As for Al Horford, the former Gator doused the Thunder frontcourt with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists in 30 minutes. Horford played a more post-centric game with rookie Jeremiah Robinson-Earl fielding the majority of center minutes — but the 35-year-old branched out with his exceptional passing.
Schroder and Horford’s rally of baskets did not come without reinforcements, however, as without Robert Williams and Jaylen Brown in the lineup, Jayson Tatum revelled in a star-scoring role to the tune of 33 points on an 11-of-22 shooting palate.
Lu Dort led the Thunder in scoring Saturday evening as the guard recorded 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists in 36 minutes. Dort settled at the three-point line for the better portion of the evening as with a faulty 1-of-6 going around the rim, the 22-year-old drilled 4-of-9 attempts from downtown. Though Dort never fully immersed himself around the cup, the turnaround from Dort’s previous 2-of-7 time at the three is a positive.
Josh Giddey logged Oklahoma City’s most efficient statline of the night as the 19-year-old clocked in 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in 29 minutes. Giddey had a career-night from beyond-the-arch as instead of the distributor of trifectas, the Aussie became the recipient of dimes — delivering on 4-of-6 tries from deep.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander amassed 14 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in 34 minutes of play. Gilgeous-Alexander’s cold spell to close Friday’s contest swept on in the Garden as SGA shot a bleak 4-of-13 from the field with a 3-of-7 clip from distance. The Celtics made it well-known that they’d hand out open threes in efforts to defend Gilgeous-Alexander, and the plan looked to have worked given the 23-year-old’s shaky 1-of-6 going at the rim.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl became a benefactor of Udoka’s defensive scheme as the 20-year-old placed 13 points and 8 rebounds in 27 minutes off of the bench. Robinson-Earl became a key corner sitter on Saturday, as the rookie buried 3-of-7 triples while posting a 5-of-11 conversion rate from the field.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (6-10) will take a one-day hiatus before facing the Atlanta Hawks (8-9) in their road-game endcap.