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After a letdown loss like Friday night’s 89-84 drubbing at the hands of a depleted Thunder squad, the Celtics are no doubt reminding themselves that this is an 82-game season and titles don’t get passed out in November.
Oklahoma City came to town as it was announced earlier in the evening that superstar Kevin Durant would be inactive with a sore left ankle. With a commodity as valuable as Durant and a defense as physical as Boston’s, the Thunder were wise to take the safe route and sit him out. Without him in the lineup, expectations were low for the visitors as the Celtics destroyed Oklahoma City on the road two weeks ago.
It became clear early that energy would be lacking for the C’s on this night. The first quarter started off okay, but the Celtics failed to put together any runs or momentum allowing them to pull away and establish a presence. Shaquille O’Neal had it going early, scoring 10 of his 11 points in the opening frame. Kevin Garnett had to leave early in the first quarter after taking an elbow to the back of his head. The golf ball-sized lump was clearly visible from every camera angle but it did not keep Garnett out of the game as he came back midway through the second quarter. Garnett finished with only two rebounds, an off night for him and a microcosm of the Celtics night.
Russell Westbrook continues to impress and was the story for OKC. Despite an ice cold fourth quarter, Westbrook managed 31 points and went 11-for-13 from the free throw line. He looks like he may be faster than even Rajon Rondo. Speaking of Rondo, he had 14 points, but he had an uncharacteristic 7 assists, a season-low. Continuing the trend, Glen Davis went 2 for 10 from the field and missed four free throws in the fourth quarter. It’s probably best not to watch the tape on this one.
The Celtics were able to cut the deficit to four, with game at 83-79 late in the fourth quarter. Glen Davis then missed two free throws, returned to the line and went one for two. Delonte West made a pair of foul shots to make it a one-point game with 1:06 left. Oklahoma missed its last 13 shots of the game to allow it to get to this point, but the Celtics couldn’t snatch the game if they tried as they too missed their last nine shots. Ray Allen missed a 3-pointer that would have given Boston its first lead of the half, but a couple of Westbrook free throws later and the game was all but over.
Westbrook’s pace and tempo really seemed to throw the Celtics and set the tone for Oklahoma’s harassing defensive effort, one that was lacking the last time around. Oklahoma City forced 15 turnovers on the Celtics, a large contributor to the lack of offensive rhythm for Boston.
The true dagger of the game came at the close of the third quarter. In a beauty of point guard-on-point guard play, Westbrook took the ball at the top of the key with Rondo as his shadow. Rondo twice knocked the ball from Westbrook as the shot clock wound down and OKC played for the final shot of the half. Somehow, the ball managed its way to the hands of Royal Ivey, who banked home an unlikely three to put the Thunder up 10. Rondo had a look on his face that suggested he couldn’t win.
Neither could the Celtics.