Defense did all they could, shot selection kills Thunder

By: Addam Francisco, Senior Writer

After starting (0-3) a Thunder win was almost mandatory on Thursday night against the Boston Celtics. After a dominant first half, the Thunder seemed to find a way to fall to the Celtics, 101-95 after a complete offensive letdown in the final five minutes.

The first quarter went as planned, with the Thunder playing their style of basketball. Fast, aggressive and enforcing their will in the paint and playing even better defense, or taking advantage of the Celtics missing every shot they attempted. Although the Thunder offense wasn't operating at it's best, shooting just 29.2 percent, they held Boston to 31.8 percent shooting, which was a misleading percentage. They made a few shots late in the quarter which boosted their percentage. The Thunder allowed close to nothing in the opening quarter.

The second quarter was more of the same. Oklahoma City improved their shooting percentage, slightly, while Boston continued to struggle. By halftime, the Thunder allowed only 34 points, while mustering up 50 and things looked promising.

There's something that happens in the Celtics locker room at the Chesapeake Energy Arena during halftime because just like last season, the Celtics came out a completely different team in the third quarter.

Rejuvenated and motivated, the Celtics came out of the break with a brand new energy. Kyrie Irving looked completely befuddled in the first half but came out in the third quarter on fire. Al Horford, Marcus Morris, and Jayson Tatum started knocking down the shots that they were missing in the first half and at one point, Horford knocked down 9 points in 41 seconds. In the meantime, the Thunder continued to settle for long twos and contested threes, completely abandoning what worked for them in the first half.

Following abysmal third period, OKC seemed to figure some things out. The combination of Hamidou Diallo and Patrick Patterson provided a positive, balanced attack defensively and offensively, creating space for guys like Alex Abrines to build confidence and knock shots down. That lineup was short-lived. Head coach Billy Donovan chose a lineup of Westbrook, Paul George, Dennis Schröder, Jerami Grant, and Steven Adams, which isn't an unusual set of players by any means.

The combination of poor shot selection and a deflated defense down the stretch is what sent the Thunder into an (0-4) start to the season. In the final four minutes and the Thunder leading 94-87, Westbrook attempted a 19-foot jumper, which fell short. At the 3:49 mark, Alex Abrines missed a 24-foot 3-point shot. Following a beneficial offensive rebound by Grant, he opts to hoist up another three, which isn't his shot. That missed badly. Grant countered that with a loose-ball foul, sending Marcus Morris to the free throw line and he drained both. After Morris' free throws, the Thunder still led 94-89 with 3:34 remaining, which typically would warrant the Thunder milking time off the clock and creating a quality shot near the basket and hopefully getting to the free throw line. Instead, George chose to attempt a low-percentage three, which you guessed it, didn't go in. Immediately after a Celtics timeout, Irving successfully knocked down a jumper, trimming the Thunder lead to three points.

Things got even muddier for the Thunder after that. With just under three minutes to play, Westbrook committed a turnover, then immediately fouled Tatum, sending him to the line where he knocked both down. How did the Thunder answer? With a missed jumper by Russell. After that, both teams remained rather stagnant offensively. Until Marcus Morris hit a three, assisted by Horford, which put the Celtics up by three, 98-95. Donovan quickly called a timeout with 27.9 seconds remaining in the game to draw up a play. Nevertheless, the play was designed for Westbrook, who at the time was shooting 5-of-19 for the game and 0-for-4 from three. He inevitably heaved up a 28-footer, which missed and that all but ended the game for the Thunder.

Boston outscored Oklahoma City 16-1 over the final 4:22. Throughout the game, the defense kept the Celtics at bay but ran out of gas in the final minutes. The Thunder got out-coached in the final stretch and are still searching for their first win of the season, from the bottom of the Western Conference. George finished the contest with 22 points and eight rebounds on 7-of-22 shooting. Westbrook tallied 13 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists on 5-of-20 shooting, while Adams added 12 points and six rebounds.

The Thunder do have a chance to get back on track on Sunday night against a struggling Phoenix Suns team, possibly without their star, Devin Booker.

A. Suave FranciscoComment