BOSTON — Effort has rarely been an issue for the Boston Celtics during the Brad Stevens era.
On Wednesday night against a shorthanded Oklahoma City Thunder squad, it became one. The Celtics failed to match their opponent’s intensity on both ends of the floor during the second half, and they paid dearly for it. The Thunder looked like an All-Star team, outscoring Boston 67-43 over the game’s final 24 minutes to cruise to a 109-94 win at the TD Garden.
“Very rarely do I feel like we were just out-efforted in a half…but we were in the second,” Stevens said after the game.
Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow each scored a game-high 28 points for the Thunder in the offensive onslaught. The pair exposed an inept Celtics defense by combining to score 42 points in the second half alone. The entire Boston roster managed just 43 points over those 24 minutes.
The setback was a lost opportunity for the Celtics, who squandered an early 15-point lead against a shorthanded Thunder squad (missing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook due to injury). The Celtics hit eight of their first ten shots from the field, jumping to an 18-3 edge over the visitors, before slowly falling apart over the final three frames.
One factor in the collapse was an adjustment Thunder coach Scott Brooks made in the first quarter, shifting his team to a zone defense. From there, the tide began to turn against the hosts.
Instead of sticking with a fast paced offense that had plenty of ball movement, the Celtics found themselves settling for countless jump shots over the game’s final 42 minutes. Boston bricked many of those, shooting 44.6 percent on the night overall and a putrid 27.3 percent (9-of-33) from 3-point range.
Without a reliable offense to lean on, the Celtics appeared frustrated and lost focus on the defensive end. Morrow and Jackson scored at will from the perimeter and in the lane, captaining a Thunder offense that hit 61.9 percent of their shots over the final two quarters.
Outside of an inspired performance from Rajon Rondo (20 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds) and Jared Sullinger’s solid play (14 points and 11 rebounds), there was little for Celtics fans to get excited about Wednesday night.
This setback has dropped the Celtics to a 3-4 record, and Boston is now allowing the most points per game in the Eastern Conference. With the Cleveland Cavaliers coming to town Friday night, Stevens has plenty of work to do to shore up the holes in his team’s defense.