Westbrook, Thunder battle back in fourth to beat Celtics, 99-96

Westbrook, Thunder battle back in fourth to beat Celtics, 99-96

This one had to hurt. 

For most of Sunday night, the Boston Celtics did what they came to do and were in position to win the game. 

But when the game was anyone’s for the taking, it was the game’s biggest star – Russell Westbrook – who snatched up the victory for his Thunder team who rallied in the fourth for a 99-96 win. 


Boston had a chance to force overtime but Marcus Smart’s 3-pointer rimmed in and out as time expired.

Westbrook finished with 37 points, 12 rebounds and six assists which is an impressive for most NBA players. 

But Westbrook isn’t your typical NBA player as he came in having tallied seven straight triple-doubles. The Celtics stopped that streak, but were unable to stop Westbrook when they needed to. 

With the score tied at 94, Westbrook blew past Avery Bradley into the paint and the help-defender, Amir Johnson, was a step late getting to where he needed to be defensively. 

The end result was a lay-up for Westbrook. 

After Bradley’s potential game-tying basket was off the mark, he was able to force a jump ball between himself and Westbrook. 

Westbrook easily won the tip and the Celtics, rather than foul immediately, allowed Oklahoma City to swing the ball around until they found Jerami Grant open under the rim for an uncontested dunk which would later prove to be the game-winning basket. 

This will be yet another disappointing loss for the Celtics (13-11) which has now dropped two in a row and have lost two of the three games they have played without Isaiah Thomas who was out with a right groin injury. 

Thomas said earlier that he was hoping to join the team in San Antonio. 

His return can’t come soon enough as the Celtics struggled to find a go-to guy in the fourth quarter which is when Thomas has been at his best. 

But you won’t hear the Celtics players or coaches talk much about who wasn’t there or who could have helped them. 

Instead, they will lament the mistakes down the stretch that seem to becoming more than just a trend; but a part of who they are. 

There was Jae Crowder, who was having one of his best games of the season, fouling out after scoring 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

There was a bad pass by Al Horford in the direction of Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier that sailed out of bounds in the final seconds of play. 

Avery Bradley’s potential game-tying drive that was a tough shot, but in that situation should have been made nonetheless. 

But as well as Westbrook played, his teammates came up with some clutch plays in the fourth quarter as well. 

Boston’s Al Horford had his shot blocked by Stevens Adams with less than a minute to play. But the Celtics got a good defensive stop with Westbrook missing his next shot which was rebounded by Terry Rozier. 

Semaj Christon came up with six of his nine points off the bench in the fourth quarter. 

Those mistakes along with Boston’s bevy of self-inflicted wounds proved to be too much for the Celtics to overcome. 

Boston led most of the game before the Thunder eventually tied the game at 71 only for the Celtics to respond with a 9-2 run that put them back on top 80-73 with 9:35 to play. 

Oklahoma City continued to fight back and eventually tied the game on a 3-pointer from Westbrook that made it a 92-all game. 

Moments later, Avery Bradley put the Celtics back up with a short jumper and followed that up with a steal. 

That would be the last lead the Celtics would enjoy as the Thunder closed out the game with a 15-6 run for the win. 

Blakely: Why Celtics should feel pretty lucky on St. Pat's

Blakely: Why Celtics should feel pretty lucky on St. Pat's

It’s hard being an NBA fan and not thinking about the Celtics on St. Patrick’s Day.

All that green, the shamrocks and the libations that so many of us enjoy even more today than most days, it’s pretty cool and certainly something – well, for me at least – to be thankful for.

The Celtics, yeah, they got a few – quite a few - things to be thankful for as well.

So what better day to point a few of them out than the unofficial holiday of the Celtics, St. Patrick’s Day.


When Danny Ainge drafted Terry Rozier three years ago, I admit I wasn’t a believer. You had guards, Danny Ainge. What do you need another one for? Draft Sam Dekker from Wisconsin, or UVA’s Justin Anderson. Hey, that kid Bobby Portis from Arkansas looks pretty good, too.

Ainge and the Celtics took a look at all those guys and came away convinced that Rozier was the best fit for what the wanted both in the short and long-term from that draft.

While Rozier has not emerged as a star, he has shown us all more than enough to know that he’s a pretty damn good player.

And throw in the fact that the dude was born on St. Patrick’s Day - as was Ainge - how can this guy not have a little bit of luck on his side?


LeBron James’ timing has been impeccable when it comes to leaving for greener pastures. So, when Kyrie Irving let the Cavs know he wanted out of Cleveland, it took a minute to sink that they were about to be LeBron’d by someone other than LeBron. But in making his desire to be traded, Irving was giving the Cavs an opportunity to get something in return for shipping him out to who knows where. The Cavs eventually wound up with a couple of draft picks, with one being a coveted first-rounder via Brooklyn in June’s NBA draft along with a trio of players headlined by Isaiah Thomas who was still on the mend from a hip injury.

The injury took longer to heal and the Cavs wound up trading Thomas and ex-Celtic Jae Crowder to teams out West.

Today, Cleveland is treading water as a middle-of-the-pack club that has shown very few signs of late that they will be nothing more than first-round fodder for some team with deep playoff aspirations and a roster ready to make that happen.

And Irving?

He was named to his fifth All-Star team and has spent most of this season playing for a Boston team that until recently held down best record in the East and currently sits in the No. 2 spot.

Irving is dealing with a sore left knee that has limited him recently to not playing, but it doesn’t appear to be an injury that will significantly impact what he does in the postseason for a Celtics team that, despite all their injuries, still holds out hope of making a strong postseason run.


Whenever you ask Brad Stevens about his decision to leave Butler for the Celtics in the NBA, he makes it clear from the outset how difficult a decision it was for him and his family.

Just imagine if Stevens had won a national title instead of having a pair of national runner-up finishes to his name? Leading a mid-major like Butler to an NCAA title, which would have meant slaying UConn or Duke in the process? Stevens would have been more than just a big deal on the Butler campus. He would have been seen as a basketball god who would have had an even tougher time walking away from what he had helped build at Butler.

So Celtics fans, be thankful for Duke and UConn because without their national title game wins over Butler, there’s a very good chance that Brad Stevens would not be coaching the Celtics now.


Remember back in 2013 when Danny Ainge had the serious basketball man crush on Duke’s Justise Winslow, a player that he was willing to trade plenty of draft picks (reportedly as many as four first-round picks) to acquire the rights to draft?

Ainge suspected the Miami Heat would select him with the No. 10 pick, so Ainge tried to swing a deal with the Charlotte Hornets who were in the No. 9 slot.

Charlotte liked Winslow, but they were more smitten with Frank Kaminsky. Because of that, they wouldn’t do a deal with the Celtics.

Not doing that deal allowed Boston to have the kind of assets to eventually acquire Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Irving, moves that have collectively led to Boston’s surge towards the top of the NBA standings despite having the fifth-youngest team in the NBA.

Winslow, selected by the Heat with the 10th overall pick, has come nowhere close to being the impact player Miami was hoping they would get. And while Kaminsky has had some decent stretches, he too has been a bit underwhelming. Meanwhile, Boston kept its 16th overall pick and used it to select Rozier who as it turns out, has arguably been the best player among the trio.

Having a good scouting staff is important, of course.

But a little luck every now and then doesn’t hurt, either.




Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Beating one of the few teams already eliminated from the playoff race is in itself not that big a deal.

It’s called doing what you’re supposed to do.

But for these Celtics, their 92-83 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night was more than just another victory.

It was the latest installment in a season filled with teachable moments and lessons that can bolster in some fashion their chances at a deep playoff run.

While there’s no way they’re going to go far without their core guys Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, getting guys to fill in for them and still manage to win, is important in this team’s overall development in both the present and future.

No one on the Celtics’ roster can score like Irving, the league’s 11th-ranked scorer at 24.4 points per game.

Still, getting his fill-ins Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin to go for 17 and 10 points certainly helps.

And Jaylen Brown’s ability to play both ends of the floor at a high level is huge, but rookie Abdel Nader has shown he too has some potential to be a solid two-way talent.

Smart’s defense sets him apart from others, but the Celtics collectively were able to make up for that with an impressive defensive rating of 83.1 against the Orlando.

And their collective efforts serve as yet another teachable moment for the Celtics.

Here are five takeaways from a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might lead one to believe: 

There may not be another Celtic whose stock has risen more than Terry Rozier’s this season. He has become a reliable two-way talent off the bench whose capable of giving you starter-like production when needed. He had 17 points against the Magic along with seven rebounds and five assists.

With Marcus Smart (right thumb) out for the rest of the regular season, Terry Rozier in the starting lineup along with Marcus Morris, those are three really big chunks of Boston’s second unit no longer coming off the bench. The second unit players might have been different, but that didn’t affect the Celtics’ bench from impacting the game in a significant way. Against the Magic, they outscored Orlando’s backups, 39-28. 

He signed with the Boston Celtics at a time when a role for him was far from defined. His patience and Boston’s faith in him has paid for both as Larkin continues to be that utility player that Brad Stevens has leaned on at times. Larkin was solid off the bench, scoring 10 points.

This may be one of the closest Coach of the Year votes we have ever had in the NBA. Regardless how short the list may be, you can bet Brad Stevens will be on it. The way he has been positioning the Celtics to be among the last teams standing despite all the injuries they have endured this season, speaks to his ability to not just draw up X's and O’s but also his ability to develop players who when called upon to play, are more than ready for the challenge.

It’s fair to expect the Celtics are going to be short-handed for the rest of the season, which means those still around have to step their game up – Horford included.

For Horford, stepping up involves being more assertive as a scorer and not rely as much on his skills as a play-maker. We saw that from Horford on Friday, as he tallied a near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds but more important, he took a game-high 18 shot attempts.