After one of the Boston Celtics’ newly acquired centers made his debut at Milwaukee on March 24, another made his introduction to Celtics fans against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday and it made a monumental difference.
Luke Kornet — who, along with Moritz Wagner, was sent to Boston in a three-team deal involving the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards in exchange for former starting center Daniel Theis and forward Javonte Green — first checked into Saturday’s game at the 2:29 mark of the third quarter.
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Kornet Impresses in Celtics Debut Against Thunder
Boston, in the midst of an uphill battle, was trailing Oklahoma City by six points (75-69) at that point. Kornet first made an impact on the defensive end of the floor, guarding the Thunder’s pick-and-roll, which helped shrink OKC’s lead down to four (80-76) by the end of the third.
Then, in the final frame, Kornet started cooking. After Jayson Tatum’s bucket knotted the game at 82, Luke drained two three-pointers on back-to-back possessions that pushed the Celtics ahead by six — 88-82 — and they never looked back.
He finished with eight points and five rebounds in 13 minutes while the Celtics outscored the Thunder 35-14 in the fourth quarter on their way to a 111-94 win.
“It was a lot of fun, honestly,” Kornet told reporters after Saturday’s win. “Just to be able to play with this group of guys. Watching them in Milwaukee, super talented dudes, and also like really good dudes. So, it was just fun to be able to get out there and play.”
Stevens: ‘We’ve Also Been Really Intrigued With Luke for a Long Time’
Seeing Kornet flourish against the Thunder didn’t come as a surprise to Brad Stevens, however. According to the Celtics head coach, they’ve been eyeing Kornet for years.
“Luke’s a guy that can shoot the ball, we’ve also been really intrigued with Luke for a long time because of his pick-and-roll defense,” Stevens said during Saturday’s postgame press conference. “He’s always in good position. He’s long, he effects shots; he’s a guy we’ve always had an interest in because of those two things. (Moses) Brown was dominating us in the first half, obviously, and then at the start of the second, he had some plays. We felt like we needed to spread him out a little bit with shooting.
“That’s why we went with Luke and I thought he was really good on both ends.”
Kornet Opens up About 3-Team Deal That Landed Him in Boston
When Kornet found out he was heading to the Celtics via trade, he admitted after the win that it wasn’t easy. However, it didn’t take long for him to feel comfortable and relaxed once joining his new teammates in Oklahoma City.
“The last couple of days have been pretty eventful, (it was) a couple-hour period of just realizing what’s going on,” Kornet revealed about Thursday’s trade. “Once I got over that whole part of it, I was just really excited to come here. Boston is an awesome place and a franchise that I’ve always appreciated watching. So, it’s really cool to be here to be able to play with these guys.”
It wasn’t an easy move for the Celtics to make. Parting ways with Theis, who was Boston’s mainstay on defense, isn’t going to be easy to replace.
However, Boston needed to get out from under the NBA’s tax threshold, thus flipping Theis’ expiring $5 million contract into Wagner’s $2.1 million deal to bring the Celtics just under the tax.
The move also gives new starting center Robert Williams space to grow as he continues his vital progression this season.