OKLAHOMA CITY -- Before Kemba Walker hit the Chesapeake Energy Arena floor to warm up for today’s game against the Thunder, he skipped through the corridor on to the floor, a usually-happy man who seemed to be more jovial than usual.
“Feeling good man; feeling good,” a smiling Walker told NBC Sports Boston.
Now we know why.
This was one of the rare games in which the Celtics’ core starting five and primary reserves were all healthy enough to play.
And they needed every last one of them in knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-111 to extend their winning streak to seven in a row.
This win was particularly sweet for the Celtics (37-15) in beating a Thunder team that had won nine of their previous 10 games.
As expected, this game wasn’t decided until the final minute of play.
A Chris Paul lay-up cut Boston’s lead to 111-108 with 16.8 seconds to play.
Coming out of the time-out, Gordon Hayward’s drive to the basket was blocked with the loose ball recovered by the Thunder.
Moments later, Marcus Smart came up with a steal near half-court, tossed the ball ahead to Kemba Walker who was fouled.
Walker made the first of two free throws, with the miss being rebounded by the Thunder with 2.5 seconds to play.
They called a time-out, but it didn’t matter as Paul’s 3-point attempt dropped as the final horn sounded.
Boston comes away with one of its more impressive wins this season, getting it done with a group that we have rarely seen this season play together - the regular starting five of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis.
SLOW START, STRONG FINISH FOR TATUM
Jayson Tatum was about as dormant as we’ve seen him this year, going scoreless in the first quarter with few balls thrown in his direction.
But in the second quarter, Tatum looked more like All-Star Tatum as he scored seven points in the second as part of a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds.
These are the games that remind us all how big a deal it is that Kemba Walker is a Celtic.
He led the Celtics with 27 points, but more than that, he delivered big plays in the closing moments when the game’s outcome was very much in the air.
Yes, he missed some fourth quarter free throws that we rarely see him miss, but his overall play and presence when the game was up for grabs was critical to the Celtics getting one of its better wins this season.
There were others who scored more and played better defense, but Hayward finished with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, many of which kept possessions alive or helped close out a good defensive sequence by securing the loose ball so Boston could initiate its offense.
You hear all the time about how Hayward’s role remains undefined when the truth of the matter is, what they need from Hayward night-in and night-out is obvious.
Make an impact.
Scoring. Rebounding. Playmaking.
It doesn’t matter.
And Sunday’s win was yet another game in which Hayward gave the game what it needed and the end result being an impressive win for Boston.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Rockets, which begins Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.