[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he good news is that the Celtics (34-28) were able to slow down the Thunder’s elite offensive attack on Sunday afternoon. They controlled the pace, and made a concerted effort to attack the boards on both ends of the floor. The C’s gave themselves a chance to win by turning this game into a halfcourt slug fest where speed took a back seat to execution. The only problem was, they couldn’t execute down the stretch.
The bad news is that the Celtics couldn’t make shots. Kevin Garnett went 5 for 19 from the field, Jeff Green couldn’t find his rhythm against his former team (8 points on 2-11 shooting), and Jason Terry came crashing back down to earth after performing very well during the C’s overtime win over the Hawks on Friday. Boston missed 16 of 18 field goal attempts during the first half of the fourth quarter as they finished with only 14 points in the final frame.
Keep in mind that this game started at 12 p.m. in Oklahoma City, which essentially felt like 11 a.m. after the clocks moved forward an hour due to daylight savings time. The Celts were so pressed for time this morning that they had to run their pre-game walkthrough in the hotel on Saturday night. Players on both sides seemed affected by the time shift and early start, and that could explain why the two teams combined to shoot 40 percent from the field.
Perhaps the Thunder (47-16) were a bit out of rhythm, perhaps the C’s stout defense took them out of rhythm, but the fact that they contained the number one offense in the NBA (Oklahoma City averages 107 points per game) for most of the afternoon should help the Celtics take some positives away from this game. The Thunder’s 91-point total was their lowest output in their last 25 games, and that’s no small feat.
President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge told WEEI radio earlier this week that the offense has been a concern for this team over the last five years, but what really troubled the coaching staff and front office was this current roster’s inability to execute defensively during the first half of the season. While this loss ended the C’s five game win streak, at least it was due to their shortcomings on the offensive end, rather than any major defensive mistakes.
Were this a seven-game playoff series, the Celtics would likely point to all their missed shots as small impediments that they could overcome during the next game. There are going to be night’s where the shots don’t fall, but as long as the C’s maintain their defensive backbone, they should at least have a chance in a series against elite, fast-paced teams (Such as the dreaded Miami Heat).
Brandon Bass showed that he is a part of that backbone with a solid 13-rebound performance. He also added 6 points and blocked two shots while playing solid interior defense. Bass needs to play aggressively on both ends of the floor for a C’s team that is stretched extremely thin along the front line. Last season it took a 27-point, breakout effort from Bass in order for the Celtics to dispatch the 76ers in 6 games. If he can continue to crash the glass and go up strong in the paint like he did in Oklahoma City on Sunday, then Boston will truly be a physically formidable opponent that few teams what to face in the postseason.
This is only one loss. It’s a critical step-back in the race for playoff seeding, but the Celts have a great opportunity to gain ground as they face the Bobcats, Raptors and the Bobcats again before hosting Miami on Monday March, 18th. You can count on the C’s defense improving right up until that showdown with the best in the Eastern Conference, the only question is, will the offense?