On the second night of a back-to-back, against a resilient Oklahoma City Thunder squad, the Boston Celtics almost lost in the final minutes. Despite dominating for long stretches of the contest, the Celtics once again found themselves clinging onto a flimsy lead down the stretch.
Unlike some of their collapses from earlier in the season, such as their implosion against the Chicago Bulls in early November, the Celtics stood firm, squeaking out a victory against a team who have already registered big comeback wins this year.
Led by a 33 point, 8 rebounds, 5 assist night from Jayson Tatum, the Celtics managed to put the final nails in the Thunder’s coffin with less than a minute remaining, after Udoka had emptied his bench and almost instantly came to regret it.
We indeed witnessed a game of two halves, with the Celtics showing signs of tiredness following their high-intensity victory against the Los Angeles Lakers just 24 hours prior.
“Lakers was a big win, big rivalry last night, and I just remind them who that team is and the players that they have, and that they got a win here last year, on the second night of a back-to-back,” Udoka told the media when discussing the Celtics two wins in two nights.
Udoka Bemoans Sloppy Play
The Celtics have a habit of playing down to their opponent and have done for the past 18 months. Against the Thunder, we saw a Celtics team who came in to get their job done in an efficient fashion, but after half-time, the errors of old began to creep back in.
“We know that team is going to continue to play. They’ve had some massive comeback wins this year. They beat that Lakers down 20, beat the Lakers down 26, and then last night, even against Milwaukee, got down 20 and fought their way back into the game in the fourth quarter. We know they’re going to keep playing, they got a young, scrappy group, that plays aggressive, and I think we got a little sloppy, took our foot off the gas a little bit. Credit to them, they kept playing hard, especially in that last minute when we got our subs in. Just a learning experience for the young guys, but for ourselves, the things we did well in the first half, we got a little sloppy within the second half, took a few contested shots, and they hurt us really hurt us on the offensive glass, 25 second-chance points there,” Udoka said.
Heading into the game against the Thunder, many had labeled the contest as a potential trap game, where the Celtics could rest on their recent good form before slipping up against a team who never quit.
“We knew it was a dangerous game, they played last night, and we knew they would still come out with effort. They’ve done that all year and all last year. Wouldn’t say it’s a trap game. We turned the page pretty quickly last night and said it doesn’t mean anything if we follow it up with a dud tonight, so we brought the effort to the most part in the first half, a 45-point first half. As I mentioned, some of the things we did well, in the 2nd half defensively, we didn’t do as well, giving up 60 points there. But we’re happy with the win overall, Lakers was a big win, big rivalry last night, and I just remind them who that team is and the players that they have, and that they got a win here last year, on the second night of a back-to-back. So, we gave them the appropriate fear, respect for your opponent, they came out here and handled for the most part but got sloppy at the end, but it’s not gonna tarnish good back-to-back home wins,” Udoka explained as he responded to questions about the Thunder contest being a trap game.
Grant Williams and Al Horford Also Speak on Intensity
After the game, Grant Williams and Al Horford commented on the Celtics’ inability to stay locked in once they’ve built a lead.
“There’s a bunch of different things, you really can’t say one thing, it can be that we have a big lead and the possession may not mean as much, that shouldn’t be the case, but it’s like ‘Oh I’m gonna take this shot or do something different.’ Instead of just keep doing what you’re doing and what got you there, sometimes you can lose sight of that,” Horford said when answering questions about the Celtics’ poor second half against the Thunder.
Williams also sounded off on the Celtics’ poor effort levels once they’ve built a commanding lead, providing insight into what the players expect of themselves moving forward.
“We just have to keep that intensity throughout the entire game. We’ve lost a couple of leads because we’ve took our foot off the gas. That’s something that, as a team, happens once, ok let’s not let that happen again; happens twice, now you have to address it. Tonight, I think it was more so we had to focus in, key on what they were doing well, and not let them get those offensive rebounds and second-chance points. They knocked down a lot of shots to their credit, the shot’s that they’ve normally not knocked down, so got to give them the credit they deserve, but at the end of the day, we still have to focus on what we accomplish and what we can do,” Williams explained.
Despite the Celtics’ poor second-half showing, they were still able to bank the win against the Thunder and ensure they finished with two wins in two nights in what was a tough back-to-back test.
The Celtics will face the Houston Rockets on Monday, November 22nd, at the TD Garden as they look to continue their uptick in form.