When the news broke that Kevin Durant wouldn't be playing in tonight's Celtics - Thunder game, the reaction was mixed.
On one hand, you miss the only opportunity of the season to see how one of the best players in the league stacks up against your team. On the other hand, the Celtics' chance of winning just got a lot better.
Not so fast.
Celtics fans who stuck it out tonight watched the Durant-less Thunder outwork, outhustle, and out-just-about-everything-else the Celtics at the Garden. For the C's, it was their first home loss of the season, and one they'd like to forget about real fast.
"You know what I think we just didn't start the game with the right mindset," Paul Pierce said. "We knew what they were going to do. When you have [Kevin] Durant sitting out, along with Jeff Green, [Russell] Westbrook is going to bring his "A" game, and the rest of these guys feel like there is an opportunity for them to step up. And they stepped up tonight."
The C's may have known what they were going to do, but they didn't do much to stop it. Westbrook took it to the C's - for three quarters anyways. By the end of the third quarter, he was 9-14 for 25 points. He went cold in the fourth, going 0-7 from the field, but still ended the night with a game high 31 points and six assists.
As poorly as the Celtics started the game, they somehow found themselves still in it in the fourth quarter. The defense started to finally pick up, but unfortunately the offense would not follow suit. It was too little, too late.
"You could see it; on both ends there was no urgency the entire night," Doc Rivers said. "I asked them to explain to me how you could hold them to twelve point for the fourth quarter but for the first three you couldn't guard them and then all of a sudden you have a sense of urgency and then defensively we were terrific."
Perhaps the biggest blown opportunity of the night came at the free throw line. On the night, the Celtics shot a dismal 63-percent from the line (17-27) with three crucial misses from Davis late in the fourth quarter. Down four points with 2:36 to go, Davis stepped to the line for two free throws. He missed them both. About a minute later, Davis went to the line again with the same score - one for two this time around. What could have been a tie game was still a three-point deficit.
Yes, the Celtics beat themselves tonight. Their lack of effort angered the basketball gods. There was just no way they'd let them steal this hard-earned win from the Thunder, and they all admitted it.
"I believe in them - the basketball gods were not going to let you win the game with the way you approached the game," Rivers said.
What Doc is talking about is the lack of intensity shown against the Thunder sans Durant. Immediately the game lost its luster, and the Celtics played like it.
"I think we underestimated that team," Shaquille O'Neal said. Shot ourselves in the foot. It's kind of hard in this league to get up for certain people. Tonight we disrespected the basketball gods. We paid for it."
Glen Davis has been known to be that spark off the bench for the Celtics tonight. He continued his charge-taking streak by taking two more tonight, bringing his total to nineteen on the season. Even he was quick to echo one of his basketball idols growing up.
"The basketball gods punished us today," he said. "We suffered the consequences."
Rajon Rondo left the game midway through the fourth quarter with a strained left hamstring. He left with 12 points and seven assists, a season low. The Celtics are now 0-2 when Rondo has less than 10 assists in the game.
Westbrook gave Rondo trouble for the majority of the game, but Delonte West came in when Rondo left and did a solid job guarding him. That said, not having your floor general out there in crunch time makes it pretty tough to run a smooth offense.
"I thought defensively, Delonte was terrific," Rivers said. "I thought he did the best job of all our guards, kind of slowing them down. Clearly you want Rondo on the floor all of the time because offensively it's tough to run your stuff when your guy who knows your whole system is not out on the floor."
The injury is considered day-to-day, as Rondo will get treatment on it tomorrow and go from there.