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Celtics turn early deficit and benching into 111-94 blowout over Thunder

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Brad Stevens benched his starters late in the first quarter and got immediate responses from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in a blowout that wasn’t for three quarters.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Al Horford and the Thunder announced an agreement to sit him for the rest of the season, the evolution of the temporary seats Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond took in Brooklyn and Detroit respectively. The Oklahoma City organization said it wanted to prioritize youth minutes and utilize Horford as a mentor, thwarting an anticipated starting matchup between him and his former teammate Robert Williams III as Williams realizes the potential Horford helped grow when he was a rookie.

The Celtics did not expect to go as young tonight, even with Evan Fournier entering COVID-19 protocol and Daniel Theis making his debut with the Bulls tonight. Yet with four minutes showing on the first quarter clock, Tacko Fall, Carsen Edwards and Aaron Nesmith spilled into the game. Boston’s starters had missed eight straight shots and went down 8-0, then 18-8 against an assertive Luguentz Dort and Moses Brown — the Horford protege.

Brown poured 17 points and 19 rebounds over Boston’s front line in the first half. An early three-point play on a put back sparked that run while Tatum got his first shot jammed by the rim and Williams III needed to retreat into a fadeaway miss on one of his first post touches. Brown missed 6-of-7 before Nesmith entered the game for him.

Payton Pritchard and Edwards rejuvenated the offense during Brad Stevens’ statement dump with driving and kicking action. Pritchard hit a pull-up in the lane before cutting and catching a pass from Smart for a finish inside. Edwards hit two jumper on passes from each of the lead guards to pull back from down eight to within four. The short rest and a dose of embarrassment spurred a second half explosion from the Celtics, winning 111-94 with 52 points on 20-of-50 shooting from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Luke Kornet scored eight points in 13 minutes to spin the close game into a runaway midway through the fourth in his Celtics debut.

Boston’s offense continued to stall early while its interior folded for much of first hafl after that early jolt. Moritz Wagner and twice attempted to take charges instead of defending straight up as Brown breezed through him to the basket for free throws and a bucket.

Pritchard hit three straight jumpers on the other end to stay within 36-31 on the other end as Brown rotated back in midway through the second quarter. Brown hit a three and finished through Dort with the foul, falling to the ground to catch his breath. Tatum hit two straight shots after him to tie the game at 42, with Williams III flushing 3-of-4 at the line. Brown reentered and finished a downhill cut to the rim on a Aleksej Pokusevski handoff, tipped home a Dort miss then dunked another to build a 52-47 Thunder halftime lead.

Pokusevski continued to operate Oklahoma City’s offense from the top of the arc, finding Theo Maledon and Brown for makes, while hitting a jumper of his own for three straight Thunder makes. Brown and Tatum took a trio of threes in response and hit two. Williams III got his hands on the next two misses inside and finished a pair of lobs from Smart.

Brown hit another three, powered through Williams for three points at the rim, then flushed a hook shot to stay within three. Moses Brown finished the third with two points, Jaylen Brown had 13.

Wagner and Fall sat in the second half leading Steves to try Luke Kornet for the first time after Tatum tied the game at 82 with five straight shots into the fourth. Brown committed a three second violation and missed a layup, while Smart and Tatum danced around Kornet’s screens and tossed the ball to him for back-to-back threes that blew the game open to surpass Brown’s second half scoring total in 36 seconds.

Smart hit a layup and Tatum ran out for a three that sealed the game, boosting Boston ahead by 11 while the Thunder missed six straight shots. The Celtics led by as many as 16 in the closing minutes, gaining the benefit of Dort leaving the game with concussion symptoms just after halftime and Pokusevski tweaking his knee five minutes later before returning after Kornet’s explosion.

Kornet flushed a put back dunk, before handing the baton back to Tacko into the seven-game home stand.