“We’ve got other guys here that are gonna compete,” Marcus Morris explained. Indeed they did.
Morris knocked down a cold-blooded step-aside 3-pointer. Jayson Tatum set him up for it with a strong drive to the basket, and stroked an ankle-breaking step back of his own during Boston’s stretch run. Terry Rozier nailed a 3-pointer to keep the Celtics in range.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 21, 2018
And the Boston Celtics topped the Oklahoma City Thunder, 100-99, in a game that had major standings implications for OKC, almost none for Boston and its still-depleted roster.
For most of the game, and particularly the final 5 minutes, this had the feel of another “we-really-played-well-considering” loss for the Celtics.
OKC helped out a little bit, as must be the case when a team blows a 5-point lead with less than 15 seconds to play. With the Thunder up 99-97 and less than 10 seconds left to play, Carmelo Anthony missed a pair of free-throws that would have (more or less) iced the game. Steven Adams clanked one as well.
“They’re playing harder”
But this was a story of G-League-assisted grit more than an OKC collapse.
“They’re playing harder than we are,” OKC coach Billy Donovan warned his team during a second-quarter time out.
That the Celtics did. In one signature first-half possession, Rozier, Tatum, and Greg Monroe collared a total of four offensive rebounds in sequence, as the Celtics hung in the game.
Facing a team that had won six straight coming into the night, the Celtics stood their ground. Facing a team that defends and can get to the rim, Boston played to a points-in-the-paint standstill, 38-38.
Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Anthony didn’t play badly, combining for 64 points. But Boston’s defense and determination kept them in the game. And they made just enough shots down the stretch to pull out the gritty victory.
Even the one Celtic all-star who was present — Al Horford — had an off night, scoring just 5 points to go with 4 tunrnovers. But Monroe stepped up, with 17 points and 6 rebounds in just 22 minutes.
Tatum scored 23 points on just 12 shots to lead the Celtics, and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. Morris scored 21, including his 2-seconds-left 3-pointer. Shane Larkin (13 points on just 9 shots) and Rozier (14) also scored in double figures.
Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving, and Marcus Smart were all out again for Boston. But they overcame the roster gaps for a morale-boosting win, and a sweep of a team some consider a threat in the Western Conference.