A strongly impressive win to start a road trip for the Celtics, given Oklahoma City had two days off and is the considerably younger team. The Celtics sweated out two overtime games against Milwaukee and Chicago and were without Shaquille O'Neal. But they ended the first quarter on a 12-2 run and never trailed again.
The Celtics won this game much like they did here last year. They outmuscled the young Thunder and got into their heads with a little trash talk and execution. Oklahoma City's biggest fear is that it turns into a two-man team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and last night the Thunder did. Take away the duo's 50 points on 17-for-38 shooting and the rest of the Thunder combined for 33 points on 15-for-37 shooting and just one free throw.
The Thunder showed only flashes of their athleticism and they stymied Westbrook and let Serge Ibaka shoot jumpers. He missed 7 of 11 shots while Westbrook scored 13 of his 16 points in the third quarter. It was a solid defensive effort by the Celtics and a splendid performance by the bench, which outscored its OKC counterparts 33-12 on 13-for-23 shooting.
With a game Monday night in Dallas, coach Doc Rivers wanted to limit the veterans' minutes. Ray Allen played 40, more than he should have and Rajon Rondo tallied 36, but Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett each played just 32. So most of the starters should be rested for the Mavericks.
Also it was obvious that Rondo wanted to prove something against Westbrook, who basically took his spot on Team USA this summer. Rondo finished with 10 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 4 turnovers. Westbrook had 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting, 10 assists, 4 steals, 4 rebounds, and 8 turnovers.
Westbrook was flustered at times by the Celtics' defense and started pressing, but he was good enough during OKC's third-quarter run to nearly bring the Thunder all the way back. If you remember, the Celtics handled the Thunder pretty easily in OKC and then lost to the Thunder in Boston. OKC comes to TD Garden Nov. 19, and they will make adjustments.
For the Celtics it was a very positive start to a difficult road trip, but let's see what kind of energy they have Monday in Dallas.