OKLAHOMA CITY — The Celtics were done at halftime as they walked off the floor. They were down to the Thunder by 18 points and well on their way to a loss that would have stained their early-season rise.
But Brad Stevens encountered something out of the ordinary as he entered the dressing room. His guys were shooting 31 percent and shooting themselves in the foot at the time.
“It was bad execution,” said the coach. “It was poor basketball. And it was great defense on their part, so they had a lot to do with it. But we didn’t do our part. We’ve got to do better than that, and we just talked about this is a long journey. We’ve got 73 games to go.
“But I am really happy as you walk into the locker room at halftime and they’re talking about it. They know that they’re not playing at the level that we need to play at to beat a team like this.”
Twenty-four minutes later, the Celts had weathered the Thunder storm and emerged with both a 101-94 victory and the best record in the NBA.
Said Kyrie Irving of halftime, “Well, I was back there trying to contemplate whether I wanted to throw a cooler. I was 1-for-9 in the first half, so I was back there getting my thoughts together and understanding my rhythm was going to come. We were all discussing what was going on and we understood there were things we can control, especially on the defensive end.
“We did some great things in the first half on the defensive end, but offensively we were putting ourselves in some bad spots. We were talking about that and going play-for-play, watching the film. Coach didn’t need to show any clips or anything like that.”
Despite playing much of the evening as if they didn’t really belong with the league’s big lads, the Celts walked away with a seventh straight win and a 7-2 mark. They are the first team in league history to lose their first two games and win the next seven.
Irving (25 points) and Al Horford (20) each went for 13 in the fourth quarter to lead the Bostonians, but key contributions were made by many.
Paul George had 25 for Oklahoma City, and Russell Westbrook 19 to go with 11 assists, but Carmelo Anthony made just three of his 17 shots on the way to 10 points.
The Celts were being fitted for a toe tag with a large “L” on it as the second half began. They were behind by 18, but, alas, they weren’t quite toast just yet.
Marcus Morris started the half in place of Aron Baynes and had seven points in an 11-5 run out the break. The spread was still a dozen four minutes later when Jaylen Brown and Irving hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, and when Irving, chilly early on, replied to an Andre Roberson dunk with three straight buckets, the Celts were within two. Marcus Smart hit two free throws after Steven Adams made one and missed one, and the distance between the clubs was a mere point.
Raymond Felton closed out the quarter’s scoring with a trey to make it 71-67 entering the fourth, but holding the Thunder to 27.3 percent shooting in the period (6-of-22) and finally making a few shots had brought the Celtics back into the debate.
The Thunder were clinging to a five-point advantage when the Celts made another move. Horford hit a jumper, and Semi Ojeleye found himself wide open in the right corner. The rookie hesitated a split second, then drilled a trey that evened the game at 79.
Horford then gave the C’s their first lead since 1-0 when he took a feed from Irving on the right sideline and stuck another 3.
After a George driving dunk, Irving hit a trey while being fouled. He missed the free throw, but rushed in to grab the rebound and convert it for an 87-81 edge with 4:14 left.
A while later after the Thunder had closed to within a point, Horford bagged another 3-pointer from the right corner and, after a Westbrook miss, Horford hit a mid-range jumper.
George followed with a trey, but Irving drove and got the spread back to five with 14 seconds left, and the C’s had this one in their grasp.
“I think that we just all challenged each other to just come out and play hard, to be better,” said Horford of the halftime talk. “And we did that. We could have easily kind of folded, but it shows character. Our guys came out and kept fighting. We didn’t make excuses. You know, just proud of the group. We responded the right way.”