Defense keys Thunder's triumph over Celtics
That was the case Sunday afternoon when the Thunder hosted Boston. With both stars being less productive than usual, Oklahoma City relied on its defense to pull out a 91-79 victory.
"Their defense was excellent," Boston's Jason Terry said. "They forced us out of our comfort zone and made us stagnant. They took us out of our game plan offensively. It's something they must do if they want to get where they want to go, and that is to the finals."
The loss stopped Boston's win streak at five games and evens the season series with Oklahoma City at 1-1. But the Celtics tried their best late to make Jeff Green's return to Oklahoma City a good one.
Trailing by 14 with 2:45 left in the game, Boston made one last run. Terry drained consecutive 3-pointers to cut the lead to 87-79 with 2:10 on the clock.
The Celtics (34-28) came up with another defensive stop and set Green up for a 3-pointer. But, with a defender flying at him, his shot was off the mark.
The Thunder (47-16) got the rebound, and Russell Westbrook ran the clock down to 37 seconds before feeding Serge Ibaka for an easy layup that pushed the deficit back to 10 and sealed a Thunder victory.
"It was a good win," Westbrook said. "It was a good team win. I think we did a good job of staying with it and we got the win."
Durant led all scorers with 23 points on 6-for-16 shooting. That included going 0-for-4 on 3-point attempts. Westbrook was held to 15 points (5-for-11) and managed only two assists. Kevin Martin came off the bench to score 12 points.
Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 20 points and six assists. Avery Bradley scored 12 points and handed out five assists while Kevin Garnett had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. As a team, the Celtics had 18 turnovers and shot only 37 percent from the field.
"The best news for us is that we held a great offensive team with 91 points scored tonight," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought our shot selection was awful. We missed some open shots and we got stuck a lot on one side of the floor. At some point you have to get the ball to the other side and we refused to do that."
Durant got off to a strong start for the Thunder, making three of his first five shots. But he picked up his second foul with 3:13 left in the period and had to go to the bench.
This gave the Celtics a chance to cut Oklahoma City's lead to one by the end of the first quarter.
Since coming to Oklahoma City right after the trade deadline, Derek Fisher had yet to find his shooting touch. However, he banged in a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter to extend the Thunder's lead to 35-26 with 8:30 left in the half.
Even though Durant continued to get his shots, Bradley did a good defensive job on Westbrook. He was able to get physical and not let Westbrook use his athletic prowess. Bradley locked up the All-Star point guard for much of the afternoon.
The Celtics kept the game close, and the Thunder took a 50-45 advantage into halftime.
The Celtics began to do what they do best in the third quarter. They turned the game into a slugfest and got Oklahoma City out of its normal tempo.
As the fouls began to mount, so did the Thunder's temper. Ibaka was assessed a technical while on the Oklahoma City bench after exchanging words with Garnett.
The Celtics' defensive intensity and rebounding allowed them to cut the Thunder's lead to 68-65 going into the fourth.
With the Thunder needing an energy boost, Reggie Jackson and Nick Collison came off the bench and led Oklahoma City on an 11-2 run.
"Going into this game, we knew it was going to be a physical game," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "The way Boston plays, they play hard, tough, physical defensive-minded basketball. We did a good job of matching that toughness."
NOTES: Green returned to Oklahoma City for the first time since he was dealt to the Celtics along with Nenad Krstic and a first-round pick for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson at the trade deadline in 2011. But Brooks has never lost touch with the former first-round pick. "We text throughout the year," Brooks said. "I'm glad he's back playing good basketball. He's a great young man." ... Despite tying an NBA record on March 5 for the fewest number of turnovers in a game, Oklahoma City still ranks 26th in the league in turnover percentage. ... Since being traded to the Celtics, Jordan Crawford has not been the explosive scorer many thought he would be. In his seven previous games, Crawford has scored in double figures twice and is averaging 5.6 points. He had four points Sunday. ... Rivers said he has given up on trying to devise defensive schemes to stop Durant. He is relying on divine intervention. "You pray," Rivers said. "I'm serious. I don't know if there is a way besides attacking and being physical offensively. When you look at the Miami games, it's not that they guard him great. LeBron attacks him great." .