The rundown (a quick look at postgame headlines)
--FOR ONE HALF, CELTICS SHOW POTENTIAL TO BE GREAT--
Before Sunday's game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers detailed how, despite Boston's early season success, he felt there was room for great improvement from his team. He figured it would take the remaining 76 games of the season to bring them to max efficiency.
Instead, that potential came gushing out over a 15-minute stretch spanning into the second quarter in which Boston erased a three-point deficit, while building a 21-point halftime advantage. Before they could even get too pleased with themselves, the Celtics tempered all the good feelings by disappearing in the third frame and nearly letting the entire game slip away.
"We came out in the first half and played as well as a team can play," said Rivers. "We were defending; We kept them off the glass; We played with great energy; We were running the ball up the floor and getting into our offense early. Then we did the exact reverse in the third quarter; We reversed. Just kind of let them play and they’re too good to let your guard down. We did that and a veteran team should never do that. We got away with it and, even though we won by a big margin, you can’t do that."
The Celtics were prone to allowing big second-half runs last season and it's been more of the same at the start of the 2010-11 campaign, but Rivers doesn't seem overly concerned quite yet.
"We’re winning the games, and that’s one thing I will say, in this league, everyone loses leads," said Rivers. "Not the way we did today. The other games, it was more our execution, I thought we had good focus. Today, it was just us. We got up on a great team, then you have to keep playing that way to win the game and stay up, and we kinda let up. You can get away with that against a lot of teams, not with a team with [Russell] Westbrook and [Kevin] Durant on it. You definitely can’t do that."
Kevin Garnett realized the starters spoiled a chance to put a great effort together, but took the positives out of the start.
"I thought the third quarter, we had a little lapse there," said Garnett. "But they’re at home, we knew they were going to make a run. We could have opened the game up in the third quarter, but for the most part we started the game off solid."
Added Ray Allen: "It does seem like we’ve been holding on, like we’ve been doing what we need to do for the long haul for 48 minutes. That’s the important thing: Just [doing] whatever we’ve been doing to win games. Sometimes it’s not pretty, sometimes it’s not executed the way we want, but that’s the objective."
Like Rivers said, there's 75 more games to work out the kinks. The Celtics can win ugly now, then win pretty later.
--ERDEN MAKING STRIDES WITH EXTENDED FLOOR TIME--
With Shaquille O’Neal sitting out his fourth consecutive game due to a bruised right knee, rookie center Semih Erden continued to log extended minutes, which are aiding his rapid development.
In the first quarter of Sunday’s game, Erden helped cap a little 12-4 run to end the first quarter when Boston rallied from the biggest deficit it would face (3 points). First, Erden set a pick that set up a Nate Robinson jumper. When the Celtics ran the same exact play on a final-possession opportunity the next trip down, Robinson dished to Erden on the roll for the and-1 layup that put Boston up, 28-21.
Early in the second quarter, Erden outraced Durant on a little-too-long lead pass from Glen Davis, and when Durant stumbled out of bounds on the chase, Erden delivered an easy dunk.
"Tonight, [Erden] was phenomenal," said Rivers. "He’s just great. He’s starting to understand this role. With all the shooters on the floor, we’re just trying to teach him how to roll -- just roll hard on every pick. I tell him: He has to look at himself like a human pinball. Just go pick everybody and roll hard to the basket. And he’s starting to do that. Now he’s starting to rebound for us as well. And he makes free throws."
Now if he can just master the language. Kevin Garnett said to be weary of that.
"Don't let Semih fool you; He speaks English very well, and understands it very well," said Garnett. "I don't know if he's got all the plays under his belt, but he's playing hard. Really, really hard."
Added Rivers: “I think traveling is actually helping him [learn the language], being on the plane with the guys. He’s getting it, it’s just going to take time. We’re going to play him, regardless. He’s going to make mistakes and you just gotta try to let him play through mistakes. He needs to be on the floor.”
--LOOSE BALLS: J.O'NEAL'S AILING KNEE; RONDO'S FEET STILL FINE--
* Jermaine O'Neal drew his fourth consecutive start with Shaq sidelined, but played only 21:32 and labored at times. He connected on 1-of-5 shots for five points, but did haul in a team-high nine rebounds and blocked two shots. Jermaine O'Neal has battled a cocktail of injuries, including torn cartilage in his left wrist and a sore left knee that began bothering him after a loss in Cleveland. He told CSNNE.com after Sunday's game that he underwent a "minor" procedure on his left knee and that could be limiting his effectiveness (and minutes).
* Rajon Rondo continues to insist that his sore feet are fine. Battling what Rivers dubbed a "minor" case of plantar fasciitis, Rondo produced another double-double (10 points, 10 assists) over 36:14 against the Thunder.
"I don't know if it's going to go away, but I'm not going to rest any time soon," Rondo said when asked if he might need to miss time eventually to allow the pain to subside. "It's not as painful as it was [last week]."
Rondo noted after Friday's win over the Bulls that he won't allow the injury to slow him, particularly in key matchups like Sunday's against Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook. While their head-to-head joust ultimately proved to be a secondary story line, Westbrook overcame a sluggish first half (0 field goals, 1 point) to aid the Thunders' third-quarter rally. He finished with 16 points and 10 assists over 43:24.
* Add two more charges to Glen Davis' season total. That's his sixth two-charge game in seven contests this season. Davis boasts a total of 13 charges taken overall.