You’ve got to hand it to the Celtics – they scored 37 points in the fourth quarter against the Thunder, refusing to go down quietly.
The problem? They allowed 40 points in the third quarter. That’s not how this team usually goes about its business, and that’s why they lost a 122-118 shootout in Oklahoma City.
There was one big bright spot in the loss, though: Celtics rookie Marcus Smart, who played college ball at Oklahoma State, scored a career-high 25 points thanks to a Celtics rookie record seven 3-pointers.
A big question surrounding Smart upon entering the NBA was whether or not he could be effective on the offensive end. Nights like Wednesday night’s show he can be. But they’re going to need more out of Smart and the rest of the team Friday in San Antonio (8:30 p.m., CSNNE). And if they want to pull off another impressive win in March, they’ll have to improve these three areas:
1. Identify the hot hand
Smart was en fuego in the second quarter against the Thunder, dropping 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting including four 3-pointers. So you would think he would be the man coming out of the half, right? Wrong. Though he played almost the whole third quarter, he only took two shots, hitting a 3-pointer. The Celtics have had success with a balanced offensive attack, but this is the NBA – when someone is hot, get them the ball. Smart got some shots late in the fourth, but it was too little too late.
2. Get to the line
The Celtics, as a team, got to the free throw line 28 times on Wednesday (though they missed 11 of them). That’s a good number, but 18 of those came in the fourth quarter. The C’s just weren’t aggressive enough going to the basket in the first three quarters. In fact, Boston averages 20 free throws a game, putting them 28th in the NBA. Getting a little more technical, they’re last in free throw attempts per field goal attempts (0.227) and last in free throws attempted per offensive play (17.9 percent). This is a complicated way of saying: get to the line! Russell Westbrook had 22 free throws by himself on Wednesday.
3. Protect the ball
The Celtics are usually careful with the basketball, but that wasn’t the case Wednesday night. They turned the ball over a whopping 20 times, which is six more than what they average this season. In fact, the Thunder scored 26 points off those 20 turnovers – which tells you that the C’s played a big hand in their own demise. San Antonio also averages 14 turnovers a game, so there will be no room for error on Boston’s end.
“You have to be under control at all times, but you can't play the game second-guessing,” Stevens said.