Merry Go Round, Broken Down
Was this a "trap game" for the Celtics? It shouldn't have been, considering how little they've accomplished to date. But after handling Chicago in a tough road game that required 48 minutes of pace, space, and in-your-face defensive effort, the Celtics appeared lackadaisical over the second half against the Thunder.
Boston failed to sustain their early execution and allowed the depleted Thunder to get back in the game, before finishing off the quarter with a burst that proved to be their last of the evening.
Coach Brad Stevens couldn't attribute the second half blackout to any particular cause, but it certainly felt like a young team that allowed a modest level of recent success to cloud their understanding of just how thin a line it is between love and hate.
"I don't know what a trap game is for a team that's coming off what we came off last year," a disgruntled Stevens told media after the game. "We can't afford to not have good days. We're just not in a position where we can afford it. Both from the standpoint of winning and losing, and from the standpoint of making progress as a young team -- we have to have good days."
Oklahoma City played like a team that experienced a winning atmosphere for far longer than their opponent. Despite being substantially undermanned and on the road, playing their fourth game in six nights, the Thunder played with conviction and purpose, by quickly identifying what was working and by going to it often.
On the other hand, Boston was unable to handle what OKC threw at them, as they were outscored 67 to 43 in the second half. They grabbed Boston's hand and slammed it onto a scorching hot stove, by continuously putting Reggie Jackson into middle pick-and-rolls, in which he scored at will or kicked it out to an always-open Anthony Morrow. And Lance Thomas delivered blow after blow, by straight out-hustling the Celtics for 50-50 balls.
Jackson, Morrow, and Thomas combined to do away with both the Celtics and their two-game winning streak. Brad Stevens says his team needs to have good days, but unfortunately last night's loss to the Thunder might've been the worst of their young season.
Boston's defense gets sliced and diced
"We didn't guard them at all in the second half. We were a sieve on defense," Stevens said after the game. "Credit to them. We talked about guys like Morrow; if you ever leave Morrow, he's going to score. If you ever get hit on a screen and you're lost, he's going to score. And he scored a lot."
Anthony Morrow went off for 28-points, with 22 coming in the second half. Once again, Boston's pick-and-roll defense let him and other players run wild. The Celtics do an okay job of covering the initial attack, but the help defender has often led to their demise, as it did earlier this season against the Dallas Mavericks.
Down 11 points with less than five minutes to go, Boston wasn't dead just yet, but they needed a stop. Oklahoma City seemingly ran a pick-and-roll on every possession, as they did in the clip above with Reggie Jackson. Rajon Rondo slammed into Kendrick Perkins' screen, as Jackson accelerated into the paint.
Since Jared Sullinger was beat by the speedy Jackson, Kelly Olynyk was forced to leave Nick Collison to help protect the paint. Avery Bradley followed the rotation by shifting over to Collison, but that left a career 43 percent three-point shooter, Anthony Morrow, alone on an island. Collison made the swing pass to Morrow, who drained it, as one of his four threes on the night.
Morrow attempted five threes, and according to SportVU, the average Boston defender was six feet away when his shot was hoisted. This is, by their definition, "wide open." Problems similar to this have plagued Boston throughout the season and will continue to unless they are able to play balls-to-the-wall defense like they have in spurts.
Looking at the bright side
Finding silver linings are hard to come by after witnessing such a terrible second half, but a few players did shine in an otherwise gloomy contest. Rajon Rondo is trending in the right direction on the offensive end of the floor, as his playmaking reads are getting sharper. Rondo is one of the most cerebral players of the game, so the production was there with almost another triple-double, but it's an especially positive sign that he continues to show the burst he had pre-ACL injury.
Kelly Olynyk has been everything the front office could've expected from him and more. The second-year center is scoring at an efficient rate and he makes some plays that you don't often see from seven-footers, which makes us wonder what he could eventually accomplish with increased confidence and experience. If Olynyk's peers can somehow convince him to take on a more consistent and aggressive approach, his offensive game could absolutely explode.
Steven Adams reminds us of Ivan Drago from Rocky IV, for his brute size, ferociousness, and herculean strength, but Tyler Zeller was able to hold his ground against the beast, by showing intelligence and tenacity of his own. He resisted retaliation while Adams implemented the Karl Malone "arm bar" on him throughout the game. Wisely, Zeller brought it to the attention of the officials and was eventually able to get an offensive foul called on Adams later in the game. Zeller is growing into his newfound strength day-by-day and is benefitting from being spoonfed more minutes.
Boston will finish their three-game homestand with games against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday and the Phoenix Suns on Monday. It doesn't get any easier for the young Boston Celtics.