By MyFM's Jake Archer - The Boston Celtics needed something to go their way. The last few weeks hadn't been awful, but they certainly were draining. Celtics players were dropping like flies and the team seemed to be in low-power mode while they waited for the regular season to be over. After an ugly loss to the Pelicans on Sunday night, they were returning home still short-handed and would need to welcome in Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Honestly, I was worried this one could get ugly for the C's.
Early on, it looked like the Celtics were going to have another rough night as they were outscored by OKC 26-18 in the first quarter. The deficit wasn't all that big, but when the other team has scorers like Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, it's tough to keep up. In the second however, the Celtics started to hit a groove behind Terry Rozier, who had one stretch of eight straight points to give the Celtics their largest lead of the first half at 41-36. However, the Thunder would stay in it and take a 48-45 lead into the half.
In the third quarter, Westbrook and OKC tried to bury the C's. They opened up a ten point lead, but Boston battled back with eight straight points to finish the third, including a three-pointer at the buzzer by Shane Larkin (13 points off of the bench). They'd head to the fourth down by just two and looking to stay close enough to pull off the win.
Boston eventually took an 82-81 lead in the final period on another three by Larkin. The Thunder, who had missed 15 attempts from deep already, finally cashed in on four straight to snag the lead back at 93-89. It was getting late, but the C's were determined to stay on course and take down one of the NBA's hottest teams. Rozier (14 points, six rebounds, six assists, two steals) banged a three to get his team back to within two at 99-97 but just seconds remained. The Celtics fouled Anthony with 7.7 seconds left to play and the former All Star went to the line and clanked two shots. Boston grabbed the rebound and called a timeout to give them one final shot at the win.
Out of the timeout, the ball went to the rookie Jayson Tatum who Brad Stevens is intrusting to lead the team right now. He's been hot lately and made the big plays to impress the Thunder during this game. His mindset seems to be mature and he's not going to let his team down. Tatum found Marcus Morris (21 points) beyond the arc and the forward chucked up a contested three for the lead. Morris buried the three-ball and the Celtics had the 100-99 advantage with 1.2 seconds left. He would later call it his "biggest shot" because he had never actually hit one to win a game. A final shot from Westbrook came up short and the Celtics had stolen a win against a very talented team.
Tatum (23 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) later acknowledged that he messed up and busted the final play, but it worked out anyway and Boston came away victorious. Between that and Anthony missing two free throws to seal it, the Celtics got pretty lucky. With what they are working with, they'll take wins any way that they can get them. Not only are so many players out, but they are getting minimal production from All Star Al Horford. Greg Monroe gave them 17 points from the bench.
Westbrook led all scorers with 27 points while also picking up eight boards and seven assists. His team fell apart down the stretch though and had their winning streak snapped at 6 games. Paul George (24 points, 13 rebounds) gave Morris credit for shocking the Thunder with a big shot because of the fact that they made it tough on him. The Celtics defense also gets some credit for holding the slick-shooting Thunder down. However, OKC certainly needed to rebound better and find a way to finish the job against a team that has lost so many key guys like Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown. They got double figure points from Adams, Anthony and Brewer as well, but nothing from their bench.
Apparently Irving will not accompany the team on their four-game trip that starts Friday in Portland. He'll seek a second opinion on his knee that has been sore all month and it's hard not to worry about him right now. Although reports still seem to be that all he needs is rest, things are feeling eerie right now. As for Brown, he's making progress but there is still no exact timetable for his return.
Boston improved to 48-23 which is still good for the second seed in the East. They are five games back of Toronto and 6.5 games ahead of Cleveland.