Marcus Smart's dramatic and powerful homecoming performance was not enough to overcome streaky shooting and a lack of ball security, as the Celtics saw their win streak snapped by Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
In his return to the state in which he played his college ball, Smart posted an impressive stat line of 25 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks, and was a team-leading +10 in his time on the court. Kelly Olynyk and Brandon Bass were also solid contributors, putting up 20 points each.
However, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder used a very aggressive approach to pull out the victory. Their strategy resulted in 39 free throw attempts for them, and 20 turnovers for the Celtics. Westbrook led the team with 36 points and 10 assists, despite going 8-26 from the field. Enes Kanter and Steven Adams also had impressive showings, each posting double-doubles
The Thunder came out with some aggressive half-court pressure early, which threw the Celtics off their game somewhat at first. Zeller was effective early, shooting 4 for 4 in the quarter for a total of 8 points. Despite not scoring in the first frame, Marcus Smart made his presence felt on the defensive end, as he came up with a steal and a nice block on Dion Waiters in the first 5 minutes of the game. Boston shot well, but could not seem to take care of the ball, turning it over 6 times in the first 12 minutes alone. There were multiple plays in the first several minutes where a Celtic driving to the hoop would have the ball stripped by a help defender, leading to fast break points for the Thunder. The Celtics finished the quarter down 28-24.
At the start of the second quarter, I saw something that made my heart sing. After yet another careless turnover, leading to a wide-open dunk for OKC, Smart buried a triple, and started shouting to his teammates as they got back on defense, in what seemed to be a demand for them to step up their intensity. It was almost KG-like, and demonstrated the leadership qualities that helped make the Oklahoma State product such an appealing prospect. He then punctuated his point with a block and a full-court assist to Crowder. Kelly Olynyk made his presence felt as well, his two made three-pointers in the second brought the Celtics to within one point. The quarter ended up belonging to Smart though, as he responded to the aggressive play of the Thunder with two consecutive made three pointers (one of which was about 6 feet beyond the arc) and a beautiful assist to Zeller on the fast break. This was followed by a floater and then another made three-pointer. Smart's 14-point quarter led the Celtics to a halftime lead, 57-53.
The third frame started much like the first one did; with a lot of pressure from the Thunder, and a poor response from the Celtics. The four-point lead that Boston had amassed in the second was erased in the first two minutes of the third, when a Roberson layup tied the game at 59. Kanter was huge out of the locker room, tallying 6 points and a block in his first four minutes back on the court. However, he was unable to carry the Thunder back to a lead, especially when the Celtics went to a zone halfway through the period. That's right, the Celtics shifted to a 2-3 zone on defense for a stretch halfway through the third quarter. Once they moved back to man, Westbrook started to take over. He scored 8 points in under a minute and a half to carry OKC to a 76-70 lead. Things didn't get better from there. Sloppy play from the Celtics, aggression from Westbrook, and unforgiving calls from the referees helped the Thunder to take a 93-81 lead at the end of the third.
The fourth quarter endured a sloppy start by both teams, with poor shooting being the name of the game. Neither team played particularly well, and it showed on the scoreboard. The Thunder still carried a double-digit lead halfway through the fourth, 103-90. Free throws started to favor the Celtics. OKC fouled repeatedly, and Boston entered the bonus with a half-dozen minutes left to go in the game. The Thunder's aggressive defense looked like it might be their undoing, as the C's were able to shrink the lead to 8 with 3 minutes left to play on the back of several free throws and yet another 3-pointer from Marcus Smart. A made 3 from Olynyk would bring the C's back within 5. From there, the pace of the game slowed way down, as the Celtics repeatedly put OKC at the line, trying to claw back from the deficit. It would not be enough, however, as the Thunder would take the game by a final score of 122-118.
The C's just couldn't overcome a terrible 3rd quarter, and sloppy play on offense throughout. While there were a couple of good things to take from the game, they have several things to correct before their next game, against the defending champs. They will look to get back on the winning side of the ball on Friday, when they visit the Spurs in San Antonio. With the loss, Boston drops to a two-way tie with Indiana for 8th place in the Eastern Conference.