OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Almost one year ago, the Boston Celtics (3-2) trailed big at halftime in Oklahoma City before exploding in the third quarter. Ultimately riding that momentum to a big win on the road.
Tonight was much of the same.
For the first time in it’s history since coming to Oklahoma City, the Thunder (0-4) have lost their first four games to start the year.
“Unfortunately with the loss, I thought we did some very positive things,” Billy Donovan said afterwards. “There were a lot of self-inflicted wounds.”
He’s right. The wounds of this game, a game the Thunder led 50-34 at halftime, were self-inflicted.
The Thunder shot 7-of-28 from three, continuing their pace as the worst three point shooting team in the league. The self-inflicted wounds? A 14-of-25 performance from the free throw line.
“We left all those points off the board,” Donovan said. “We try to work on free throws as best we can. We got to the foul line a lot more than Boston did in the first half and that totally flipped in the second half.”
There wasn’t the typical blame of the majority of free throws coming from poor free throw shooters. 16 foul shots came from Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Dennis Schröder and Alex Abrines — guys who are all 80 percent or higher career wise from the charity stripe. They knocked down 10. While the remaining nine came from Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Jerami Grant — at or just over 50 percenters. They only hit four.
With the Thunder both living off the fortunate misses from Boston and playing some sound defense, the first half was the best Oklahoma City has looked so far in this young season. The Celtics shot 0-for-11 from three and only shot eight foul shots, hitting three of them.
“We didn’t trust the extra pass leading to the next shot wasn’t going to fall,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game. “The second half, we trusted each other, got hot and road the momentum.”
A 40 point explosion by the Celtics, highlighted by a 9-of-13 performance from three, and abysmal shooting by the Thunder (9-of-21) saw the big lead turn into a two-point deficit going into the fourth. Al Horford (19 points and nine boards) hit three threes in a 41-second span midway through the third.
With Westbrook (13 points on 5-of-20 shooting) and George (20 points on 7-of-22) in foul trouble, the Thunder were still able to ride the see-saw in the closing quarter. Big consecutive threes by Abrines helped Oklahoma City gain a small lead at 94-85 at the 4:22 mark.
The Celtics closed on a 16-1 run. The death knell was a bad Westbrook three on an out-of-bounds pass with 22 seconds to go down 98-95.
The Thunder are now 0-4. Inconsistency, poor shooting and untimely defensive quarters have helped them reach this unattractive start.
“I look at it as a long season,” Donovan said. “We’ve played the two best teams in the East and the West in Golden State and Boston. We’ve made improvements. I like playing those types of teams early to get a gauge of where you’re at. Hopefully we can learn and get better.”