It didn’t look like the Boston Celtics were going to have enough to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in three quarters on Saturday night. Every time the Celtics get close, the Thunder find a way to pull away a little.
But in the fourth quarter, the pendulum swung wildly in Boston’s favor. They outscored the Thunder 35-14 including a 19-0 run for a 111-94 win on the second night of a back-to-back.
While the fourth quarter was clearly the most impressive part of the game for the Cs, there were a few other performances that were critical for the team as they stayed competitive with the upstart OKC team.
In particular, the balance of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the second half helped Boston emerge with its 23rd win of the season. As a result, they finished their five-game week with a 3-2 record.
Here are three quick observations of the C’s win over the Thunder.
1. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum each lead the Celtics by a quarter
The Celtics were trailing the Thunder by five points at halftime. They struggled to score, and Brown and Tatum had combined for just 17 points on 6 of 24 shots.
But in the second half, things changed. Brown and Tatum stepped up their effort, got into a scoring rhythm and ultimately led the team to victory.
The way they did it was awesome. Brown was allowed to do his thing and lead the way in the third quarter, while Tatum was hot in the fourth. The balance of those two allowed the Cs to emerge with a victory.
With each star taking control of their own quarter, the Cs were able to overcome the deficit they faced against the Thunder during the first three quarters. Brown kept them in the game with their 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the third quarter, while Tatum sparked a 19-0 run for the Cs to walk away in the fourth.
Too often this year, Tatum and Brown have cooled down simultaneously. But if everyone can choose their places to go out like they did on Saturday, the C’s will be in a good place.
Easier said than done, but it would be a good start for the Cs as they look to improve their ability to close games.
2. Payton Pritchard saved the Celtics in the first half
While Tatum and Brown were key forces in the second half, Pritchard did a lot to keep the Cs in the game in the first half.
On nights Kemba Walker has had to sit down in the past, the Celtics have often struggled to find significant scoring contributions outside of the two Blue Jays.
But Saturday night against the Thunder, they were able to do that. Pritchard provided them with a key spark in the first half when they desperately needed it.
The C’s started the game cold and trailed the Thunder in the first quarter, 14-5. Then, midway through the period, Pritchard came into the game for Tatum and helped jump-start Boston’s offense.
It all started with a little float after a follow-up. Once Pritchard saw one enter, he was able to get going.
Pritchard was also one of the few players who was able to continue his hot shots from Friday night through Saturday. He made some deep shots that had a high degree of difficulty, like this tricky step back.
Yes, his foot was on the line, but those were still two points the Celtics desperately needed to make up ground against the Thunder.
However, it wasn’t just the score. Pritchard also had five rebounds in the first half and was circling the court. His haste seemed to wake the C’s and began the process of getting them back into the game.
Overall, Pritchard finished the day with 12 points (all scored in the first half) and seven rebounds, a career high. It was a much-needed jolt for the team at first, so hopefully he will continue to play well, especially when Kemba is out in the future.
3. Luke Kornet looks good on Celtics debut
Not much thought was given to Luke Kornet when he arrived in a three-team trade with the Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. Most of the energy was focused on Moritz Wagner.
However, against the Thunder, Kornet proved to be a critical asset for the Cs, especially in the fourth quarter.
Kornet registered for the first time during the second half and on the first play of the fourth quarter had the ball in his hands. He immediately found Tatum cutting to the basket on a perfect rebound pass for an easy jam.
Later, Kornet would continue to make strong plays on the offensive side of the court, especially when Moses Brown was scoring him.
Kornet stayed on the perimeter on back-to-back plays and converted Smart and Tatum’s passes into three-point passes. Those two shots gave the Cs their first lead of the day and then extended it to six.
That marked a 19-0 Celtics streak that put pressure on the Thunder and was the first step for the Celtics to close the game.
Kornet finished the day with eight points, five rebounds and went 2-for-3 from 3-point range. He looked good doing it and posted a ridiculous plus-21 in just 13 minutes of action.
Perhaps, after all, it was more than a launch at the Theis deal.