It was another tough loss for the Celtics (15-17), who limp into the All-Star break losers of their last five games, after falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night, 119-104. Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo will take part in the All-Star festivities, and the rest of the Celtics will get some much needed rest and relaxation for the next few games.
As bad as the first half was – and we’ll get into it – the second half was something to be positive about (silver linings, people).
“I just loved the spirit of the team. I told them after the game, if we play like that in the second half of the season healthy, it’s going to be tough to beat us -- anybody,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said to the media after the loss.
But will Danny Ainge allow the current Celtics team to make it that far?
With the trade deadline approaching, Ainge could pull the trigger on the C’s as we know them, and elect to jumpstart the rebuilding process. With Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen off the books, and Rajon Rondo an intriguing commodity for teams, the right deal to Ainge is all it will take.
Here are three things to take from Wednesday night’s game.
First, the good news: The Celtics scored 49 points in the first two quarters of the game. For a team that averages less than 90 points per game, hovering around 50 at the half is a good thing. It’s rare for them, unfortunately. Now the bad: The Celtics gave up… wait for it… 72(!) points at the half to the Thunder. Look, the Thunder have one of the best offenses in the league (earlier this week Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 91 points – more than the Celtics average per game), but no team should score that many points at the half, especially to the Celtics. To put that score in perspective, the C’s came into this one giving up the second fewest points per game at 87.5.
That terrible first half defense allowed the Thunder to break the Celtics’ 29-game streak of not letting teams score 100-plus points, the longest streak since 2004.
We’ve seen it a few times this season against good teams. The Celtics get off to bad starts, go down big, make a comeback in the second half, but ultimately come up short in the end. That was pretty much the case Wednesday night too, as the C’s went down 27 points (and yes, it was that ugly) and stormed back late in the third quarter and well into the fourth to cut the deficit to six points. But that would be as close as it got, as the Thunder – while they showed their youth with poor decision making down the stretch – proved too much for the C’s (after all, youth works both ways, and the Thunder are young, athletic, and downright talented).
Current state of the Celtics
Give the undermanned Celtics credit for stepping up while missing key players. Just how undermanned were they? Mickael Pietrus was the C’s starting power forward tonight. No Brandon Bass (knee). No Jermaine O’Neal (wrist). No Chris Wilcox (groin). They did, however, get Kevin Garnett back (personal matter) and he actually had the best game for the C’s tonight. Garnett scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, doing most of his damage in the paint. It’s too bad KG can’t put performances like tonight together more often. It’s clear the time off was good for his body, but this season, that time is few and far between. Give Avery Bradley credit tonight too. Bradley has stepped up his play in the second season of his career, and showed why he’s one of the better (the best, according to Keyon Dooling) on-ball defenders in the NBA. The highlight play would be his fourth quarter swat of Russell Westbrook at the basket. Bradley had 12 points, five assists, and three blocks on the night.
The Celtics hope to have all three forward/centers who missed tonight’s game back by the first game of the second half. Can they stay healthy, and if so, string together enough wins to make the playoffs as a five or six seed?
We’ll find out soon enough.