Final Score: Celtics 92, Thunder 83
Scoring: Durant with 34
Rebounds: Ibaka with 11
Assists: Westbrook, Rondo with 10
Post game analysis
The Thunder just finished facing their first real Test in evaluating their chances of a deep playoff run this year. Unfortunately, the results didn’t come in as hoped for, but sadly, as expected. The Thunder lost this game by nine, but it felt much greater than that because for the majority of the game the lead hovered in the 15-20 point range, which is a tantalizing mid-point between having hope, and beating the outgoing traffic.
In quick reflection and analysis, these were the two key factors in the loss:
1) Westbrook played his worst game of the 2010 season.
Thus far, Westbrook is 2-2 versus the rest of the league’s good PG’s – winning over Rose and Stuckey, losing badly to Williams and Rondo. Playing against a team like the Celtics highlights how absolutely imperative it is to have a cerebral point guard when you’re facing a disciplined team like the Celtics. There is nothing all that complex about what the Celtics do defensively. They play hard on-the-ball defense, they deny passing lanes extremely well, they rotate efficiently, and when the game matters the most, they can ratchet up the defensive intensity like no other team currently in the league. When they do this, which usually happens at the ends of quarters, it becomes completely dependent on a patient and resourceful PG to be deliberate and mistake free, to protect the ball, generate good shots for his offense, and to not allow his team to fall behind by too much. Unfortunately Westbrook did not handle the Celtics’ defensive onslaught very well.
His poor play cannot really be encapsulated by statistics, but if you want a couple, compare his stat line vs Rondo:
Player fgm-a points assists rebounds steals turnovers
You want to evaluate a point man? Look at his shooting percentage, and look at his turnovers. These stats are highlighted against a defensive team. Repeatedly, When the game was competitive, he frequently rushed shots early in the shot clock and failed to get his teammates the ball in good scoring position. Statistically, it looks like he outplayed Rondo, with better points, rebounds, steals, and equal on assists. But then you look at his shooting percentage and those 8 turnovers, and you begin to get a glimpse to how badly he looked while playing.
Mounting a comeback and managing the game lies on the play of an experienced point guard. Westbrook isn’t there yet, but hopefully this lesson will stay with him.
2) The Thunder don’t know how to put together a game plan.
The game’s outcome can be summarized by looking at six minutes of play. These six minutes encapsulate perfectly how veteran teams earn wins.
Time left: 2:08
Score: Celtics up 20-19
Celtics call timeout
The result: the Celtics end the quarter on an 8-2 run, with the Thunder shooting 1-5.
First quarter score: 28-21.
Time left: 2:50
Score: Celtics up 45-34
Celtics call timeout
The result: Celtics go on a 13-4 run, with the Thunder shooting 0-3 with two turnovers.
Halftime score: Celtics up 58-37.
And that was the ball game. Two strategic timeouts were followed by brief surges of heightened defense and a deliberate offense. The Celtics knew that by targeting these two moments early on in the game that they could put the Thunder on their back heels early. And by doing so, they could play right into the Thunder’s weakness so far this season – an inability to have the patience to mount a three quarter comeback.
The Celtics did not play great in this game, but they played deliberately, focused, and knew exactly how and when to turn the screws to demoralize the Thunder. It was a beautiful if painful lesson of what separates deep playoff teams from young upstarts who want to earn their playoff stripes. I hope that the Thunder take this loss to heart and carefully study what great teams do, when they do it, and why.
Round one, Celtics.
Next game: Wednesday, Nov. 10 against the 76ers