By Ryan Costello
The Oklahoma City Thunder found itself in the increasingly familiar position of needing to stage a double-digit comeback Sunday night, down 21 points after Boston’s Nate Robinson banked home a buzzer beating prayer to cap off the first half.
Despite a 25-9 second half run, the Thunder never narrowed the margin under six points, falling to the Celtics 92-83 at Oklahoma City Arena.
“In the first half, we came out and played as well as a team can play,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We were defending. We kept them off the glass. We played with great energy. We were running the ball up the floor. We were getting into the offense early.”
Careless ball handling by the Thunder allowed Boston to seize and add on to an early lead.
“We were just turning the ball over,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks admitted. “They got 21 points off our 18 turnovers. We have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. In order to play against the elite teams, we’ve really gotta play good basketball for 48 minutes.”
Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored all 27 points in a third quarter that would see the Thunder cut the lead to single digits at 73-64.
“We wanted to play hard and get back in the game,” Durant said. “We had a bad first half and just wanted to redeem ourselves.”
Durant converted on 11-22 attempts from the field, including 2-3 from three-point range and led all scorers with 34 points.
Westbrook finished with 16 points and 10 assists, but also accounted for eight Thunder turnovers.
The Thunder was without Jeff Green after the fourth-year starter rolled his ankle in practice Saturday.
“Jeff is very versatile,” Brooks said, but admitted that the Thunder, who last season had been almost entirely unbitten by the injury bug, couldn’t use Green’s absence as an excuse. “We use him in so many different ways. He’s a stretch four, he can post up, he takes it to the bucket, he’s a defender, he can guard the one, two, three, and four.
“There’s no excuse. [Injuries] are part of the game.”
Serge Ibaka stepped into Green’s place in the lineup and finished with eight points and 11 rebounds in 37 minutes in his first career start.
“[Ibaka] was good,” Brooks said. “He gave us some good effort. He gave us a presence down low and he gives us energy. One thing about Serge is he gives you everything he has, and I couldn’t ask for anything more from him.”
Sunday night’s win lifts the Celtics to 6-1, even for top honors in the Eastern Conference after the 6-1 Atlanta Hawks were handed their first loss by the Phoenix suns.
Oklahoma City falls back to .500 at 3-3 and will next welcome in the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, their second game of a four-game home stand.