But in the fourth quarter, the pendulum swung wildly in favor of Boston. They beat the Thunder 35-14, including a 19-0 run to claim a 111-94 victory on the second night in a row.
While the fourth quarter was, clearly, the most impressive part of the game for the Cs, there were other performances which were essential for the team as they remained competitive with the upstream OKC squad.
Notably, the balance of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the second half helped Boston emerge with their 23rd win of the season. As a result, they ended their five-game week with a 3-2 record.
Here are three quick observations of the C’s victory over the Thunder.
1. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum each wear Celtics for a quarter
The Celtics were five points behind the Thunder at halftime. They struggled to score, and Brown and Tatum had combined for just 17 points on 6 of 24 shots.
But in the second half, things changed. Brown and Tatum stepped up their efforts, got into a scoring rhythm and ultimately led the team to victory.
The way they did it was impressive. Brown was allowed to do his own thing and lead the way in the third quarter while Tatum was hot in the fourth. The balance of these two allowed the Cs to emerge with a victory.
With each star taking control of their own quarterback, the Cs were able to overcome the deficit they faced against the Thunder for the first three quarters. Brown kept them in the game with 13 on 5 of 6 shots in the third quarter while Tatum started a 19-0 run for the Cs to retreat in the fourth.
Too often this year, Tatum and Brown have cooled down simultaneously. But if they can each choose their places to leave as they did on Saturday, the Cs will be well placed.
It’s easier said than done, but it would be a good start for the Cs as they look to improve their ability to close games.
2. Payton Pritchard saved the Celtics in the first half
While Tatum and Brown were key strengths in the second half, Pritchard did a lot to keep the Cs in the game in the first half.
On nights Kemba Walker has had to sit in the past, the Celtics have often struggled to find meaningful contributions outside of the Two Jays.
But on Saturday night against the Thunder, they managed to get just that. Pritchard provided them with a key first-half spark when they desperately needed it.
The Cs started the game on the ice and trailed the Thunder in the first quarter, 14-5. Then, halfway through the period, Pritchard entered the game for Tatum, and he helped revive Boston’s offense.
It all started out a bit floating on a follow-up. Once Pritchard saw that one come in, he was able to go.
Pritchard was also one of the few players who was able to postpone his hot shot from Friday night to Saturday. He made deep blows that had a high degree of difficulty, like that delicate backward step.
Yes, his foot was on the line, but it was still two more points the Celtics desperately needed to catch up with the Thunder.
It wasn’t just the score. Pritchard also had five rebounds in the first half and was circling the court. His commotion seemed to wake up the Cs and began the process of bringing them back into the game.
Overall, Pritchard finished the day with 12 points (all scored in the first half) and seven rebounds, a career-high. He was a necessary jerk for the team at the start so hopefully he will continue to play well, especially when Kemba is out in the future.
3. Luke Kornet looks good in his Celtics debut
Luke Kornet was not given much thought when he came into a three-team trade with the Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. Most of the energy was focused on Moritz Wagner.
However, against the Thunder, Kornet proved to be a vital asset for the Cs, especially in the fourth quarter.
Kornet showed up for the first time in the second half and in the first game of the fourth quarter he had the ball in his hands. He immediately found Tatum cutting to the hoop on a perfect rebound pass for an easy jam.
Later, Kornet would continue to make strong plays on the offensive end of the floor, especially when Moses Brown was guarding him.
Kornet hung on the perimeter in back-to-back games and turned Smart and Tatum’s assists into 3-point marks. Those two shots gave the Cs their first lead of the day and then increased it to six.
This allowed for a 19-0 Celtics run that put pressure on the Thunder and was the first step for the Celtics as they finished the game.
Kornet finished the day with eight points, five rebounds and went 2 of 3 from 3 points. He looked good doing it and posted a ridiculous plus-21 in just 13 minutes of action.
Maybe he was more than a touch to the Theis chord after all.