Friday, December 4, 2009
Postgame thoughts: Celtics vs. Thunder
By Chris Forsberg
Celtics coach Doc Rivers stressed before the start of Boston's four-game road trip the need for his team to start strong, particularly on the defensive end, something the Green had struggled to do at times early in the season.
The Celtics opened an 11-point lead after the first quarter Friday night in Oklahoma City and breezed to a 105-87 triumph over the Thunder to cap a perfect 4-0 trek on Boston's first prolonged road trip of the season.
"This is the best, so far, that our starters have played," said Rivers, who also pointed to a third quarter in which Boston's starters helped the team outscore Oklahoma City, 28-16, to extend that 11-point cushion. "Our starters have been as inconsistent as anyone, but tonight they collectively played extremely well."
Boston led by double figures after the first quarter in three of their four road wins this trip, outscoring opponents, 114-84, in those first frames. Only Miami kept it close and, even then, the Celtics led by seven at the intermission.
Speaking of fast starts, the Celtics return home -- even if it's just for one game vs. Milwaukee on Tuesday night before embarking on another three-game road trip -- with a 16-4 record (including an NBA best 9-1 mark on the road).
Nearing the quarter mark of the season, the Celtics are on pace to finish 66-16. Sound familiar? That's the exact record of the 2007-08 Celtics. Only two Celtics teams in the storied history of the franchise have finished with more than 66 wins (the 1972-73 squad set a team-record with 68 wins, but lost in the conference finals, while the 1985-86 squad finished 67-15 and won it all).
"I don't try to compare us to any other team," said Rivers. "Last year's team, I said it all year and no one wanted to hear it, but as good as our record was, I didn't think we were that good. We didn't have the right mindset the entire year; We just had too many things going on.
"Two years ago, we were a one-agenda team and that was to win the title. I think this team has the same thought process. There's no other stuff going on with this team, just a focus on winning. That doesn't mean we're playing well, yet, but we are focused on one thing."
Suddenly that little lull in mid-November that had everyone canceling the Duck Boat reservations for June, doesn't seem so worrisome. Heck, with the win over the Thunder, Boston is now 3-3 on Fridays -- previously their most troublesome night of the season.
The Celtics did it all this trip. They won big (Charlotte), they won close (Miami), they won ugly (San Antonio), and they won with finesse (Oklahoma City).
Boston shot 52 percent or better in three of those wins and, more impressively, held opponents to 42 percent of less in three of the triumphs. Oklahoma City was the only team to buck that trend, shooting 47.1 percent from the floor, but the Thunder still lost by 18 on Friday.
And while the combined record of the four opponents on this trip is a mere 36-34, three of the four teams would be playoff bound if the season ended after Friday's game.
"We don't get excited because of a seven-game winning streak," said captain Paul Pierce. "The whole goal for us is to continue to play and get better. We learn from wins and we learn from losses. Throughout the course of the season, we're just trying to get better. We did that on this trip."
A handful of leftover thoughts from Friday's win:
Captain comeback: After scoring just eight points in Thursday's win over the Spurs, Pierce scored eight points in the first 5:06 of Friday's game and had 11 points at the end of the first frame. He finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists over 31 minutes. But his most impressive accomplishment might have been holding Thunder superstar Kevin Durant to two field goals (and seven points) in the third quarter.
Durant finished with a game-high 36 points on 13 of 19 shooting.
"Durant is awesome," said Rivers. "He's going to lead the league in scoring soon and lead this team to the playoffs soon. He's difficult to stop. I'll say this, Paul in the third quarter, that's the best defensive job I've seen in a long time. He took the challenge -- we challenged him at halftime and he took it. His leadership was the difference in the third quarter."
A rare miss: Celtics guard Ray Allen misfired on a free throw late in the first quarter, ending a streak of 32 consecutive makes. Allen has made 56 of 60 free throws this season for a sizzling 93.3 percent (but the miss dropped his mark more than a full percentage point overall).
Happy Homecoming?: Celtics forward Shelden Williams grew up in Oklahoma City, starring for Midwest City High School, where he was a two-time state player of the year. After logging a rare DNP in Thursday's win over the Spurs, Williams labored through a scoreless 12 minutes on his home turf -- finishing with a team-worst minus-12 in the plus/minus rating. He did have two rebounds and two steals.
Green get glimpse of Green: The Celtics drafted Jeff Green with the fifth pick in the 2007 NBA Draft before trading his rights to the Sonics in the deal that brought Ray Allen to Boston. Green endured an off-night by registering six points on 3 of 10 shooting (including 0 for 5 from beyond the arc) and a minus-21 in the plus/minus. Green is averaging 14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game this season.
Loose balls: Kendrick Perkins picked up a technical foul for jawing at the officials late in the first half… Perkins (5 for 7 from the floor) and Kevin Garnett (10 of 11, team-high 23 points) highlighted another phenomenal shooting night for the Celtics starters. Boston's starting 5 combined to go 32 of 51 overall (62.7 percent) for 83 points. All five finished in double figures for points and all five had plus/minus ratings of plus-24 or better… Rasheed Wallace (2 for 2) and Eddie House (3 of 5) helped the Celtics finish 9 of 17 from beyond the arc. The Celtics are 11-0 when Wallace makes at least two 3-pointers in a game… One night after getting dominated on the glass, Boston held a 40-30 advantage in rebounding… Friday was the 12-year anniversary of Latrell Sprewell being suspended for one year by the NBA after choking coach PJ Carlesimo. The Thunder fired Carlesimo as their coach last November.