The Boston Celtics did it all in their 108-100 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night. You had Paul Pierce putting on a vintage second-half performance. You had Kevin Garnett doing it in all phases of the game. You had Jeff Green and Courtney Lee getting out on the break and wreaking havoc. You had Jason Terry hitting his trademark daggers.
This is what we expected to see out of the Celtics this year, and it was on full display against the defending Western Conference champions.
Going into the game against the Thunder, Boston was 6-6 and was facing all sorts of questions. Pierce questioned the team's identity in a postgame press conference following the Celtics' 112-100 loss to San Antonio. Fans wondered whether or not the C's had a good mix of guys. How big of an issue was the lack of rebounding? Was the defense suddenly slipping?
Well, the Celtics silenced their critics for at least one night, as they took it to Oklahoma City, building a lead as large as 14 in the second half and never allowing Kevin Durant to get into any kind of rhythm.
You might look at the box score and immediately say, "Well, they gave up 100 points," but that is misleading.
First of all, even with James Harden now in Houston, the Thunder are one of the highest-powered offenses in the league. If you can hold them under 100, consider it a blessing.
Second of all, Boston held Durant to just 9-of-20 shooting and completely bottled up Kevin Martin, holding him to a season-low three points. If you can keep Durant in check and take away either Martin or Russell Westbrook, you've got a good chance of beating OKC, and the C's did that.
It was the type of gritty defensive effort we have come to know the Celtics for over the years. Whenever they needed a stop, they seemed to get it. Yes, the Thunder rallied from 14 down to trim the lead to three late, but then Boston knuckled down and got key stops. For the most part, it kept Durant and Westbrook away from the basket in the final 24 minutes, and perhaps the biggest stat of the game is that the C's took just as many free throws (24) as Oklahoma City, a team known for making a living at the charity stripe.
The Celtics also appeared to be entirely in sync offensively for a full 48 minutes for the first time all season. They were scoring from everywhere on the floor, as well. They were draining threes, converting at the free-throw line, and getting buckets in transition. This was a very efficient game for Boston's offense, and Doc Rivers' club couldn't have picked a better time to put forth such a performance.
What was incredibly impressive about the C's last night was their bench. After a bit of a slow start that actually had some fans clamoring for a demotion to the D-League, rookie Jared Sullinger has been playing very well of late. He clearly has an impact on the game when he is on the floor, as he brings a brand of physicality that the Celtics missed last year.
One of the biggest moments of Friday night's contest came when Sullinger took a charge, Glen Davis style, in the second half. He also had eight points off 4-of-6 shooting, but it is those types of little plays that are going to make Sully a fan favorite in his rookie year.
Then you had Lee. While he still isn't scoring consistently (he only had four points against the Thunder), he is doing plenty of other things. His defense has been spectacular, and he was a big part of the reason why Martin was a non-factor. He also made several nice decisions in transition, including a nice pass to Green that resulted in a three-point play to put Boston up 13 late in the third quarter.
Finally, there was Green, scoring a season-high 17 points and really dominating the game for stretches. It is clear that he is still making his way back from heart surgery, and in a postgame interview with NBATV, Green stated that he is not yet 100 percent. So, for those who may be criticizing the kid for his inconsistent play, give him some time. Coming back from that type of major procedure is anything but easy, and he needs to ease into things.
Again, everything you pictured this C's team doing when Danny Ainge put the roster together this offseason, it did against one of the league's best ballclubs in OKC. It played Celtics basketball, and that is something we hadn't really seen over a full 48 minutes thus far this season.
Now that Boston has gotten its signature win, expect this group to start to improve. There will be bumps along the way regardless, as these guys still have to get used to playing with one another, but you won't see too many more stinkers (if any at all) like the one the C's laid against the Detroit Pistons.
This is a Celtics team that will be unbelievably dangerous once it fully hits its stride. You don't want to mess with this squad when it is hitting on all cylinders, and the Thunder found that out the hard way.
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