- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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We could harp on the bad -- and there was plenty of it, like the 19 turnovers, the poor shot selection, Jeff Green's dud in his first trip back to Oklahoma City, Kevin Garnett's off shooting night and a poor effort overall by Boston's bench -- but there were actually some silver linings the Celtics can begrudgingly cling to after Sunday's 91-79 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Chief among them is that Boston displayed a brand of defense that contained two of the league's elite offensive players and proved the Celtics are capable of competing with any team in the league.
It's a make/miss league ... and the Celtics missed a whole lot of shots during Sunday's game.So while fully acknowledging the Celtics have plenty of areas to improve on -- this team absolutely cannot turn the ball over as recklessly as it has recently, it would benefit from getting to the free-throw line with more consistency and it won't hang around long in the playoffs if it shoots just 37.7 percent from the floor -- let's pour a big ol' glass of green Kool-Aid and accentuate the positives.
* FEEDING KG: Garnett misfired on 14 of the 19 shots he put up (26.3 percent) and Rivers didn't particularly love his shot selection, but getting Garnett to put up 19 shots is no small feat in itself. Only twice this season has Garnett reached 20-plus shots (24 vs. Denver in triple OT on Feb. 10; 22 vs. Milwaukee on Dec. 21). A high volume of shots from Garnett typically has proven to be a winning recipe for Boston and Rivers will be imploring his 36-year-old center to shoot more when the playoffs roll around. More often than not, Garnett putting up 19 shots is going to have a favorable result. With a back-to-back starting Tuesday night against bottom-dwelling Charlotte, you can't help but wonder if this is one of those opportune times that Rivers has been looking for to give Garnett a maintenance day. What's more, giving Green, who had been playing excellent ball before Sunday, a spot start coming off a poor effort against his former team might not be the worst idea.
* ENERGY GAME FROM BASS: The Celtics need to bottle Brandon Bass' energy from Sunday's game and figure out how to uncork it more consistently. Bass pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds (helping to keep Oklahoma City off the glass as the Celtics finished with a 44-41 edge in boards). Bass added eight points on 3-of-4 shooting and a block. His defense was still inconsistent (Synergy Sports data had him allowing nine points in eight possessions defended), but the focus on the glass and efficient offensive output is a large part of what the Celtics are looking for more consistently with Bass.
* FINDING A WAY TO HANG AROUND: Everyone in Boston said the same thing at the end of the third quarter: How is this a one-possession game? With the turnovers and offensive struggles, it felt like Oklahoma City should have been up 20. Instead it was a three-point game to start the fourth quarter. After Wednesday's thrilling win over the Pacers, Rivers noted how the Celtics have been hanging around all season, overcoming all the adversity they encounter and giving themselves a chance to win games. That's exactly what they did again on Sunday, even if shots didn't fall for them this time around.
* DEFENSE GIVES THEM A CHANCE: The per-possession numbers actually suggest this wasn't a dominant defensive effort from the Celtics. According to Synergy, Boston gave up 0.938 points per possession (91 points on 97 plays; well above the team's season average of 0.893 points allowed per play). But even Rivers admitted that his team's goal was simply to keep the Thunder out of triple figures and Boston accomplished that. Putting Oklahoma City at the charity stripe didn't aid the Celtics' cause, but Boston did an excellent job containing both Kevin Durant (23 points on 6-of-16 shooting) and Russell Westbrook (15 points on 5-of-11 shooting). The Thunder lead the league in offensive rating, averaging 110.7 points per 100 possessions. To bring that number down nearly 14½ points -- even just for one game -- is an accomplishment. At the end of the day, Boston is going as far as its defense can carry it. If the Celtics take care of the ball and knock down shots with typical consistency, they give themselves a chance to win games -- including this one -- with that brand of defense.
Yes, there's plenty to clean up after Sunday, but this is one of those rare losses where the Celtics can feel confident in their long-term goals even after a short-term setback.