OKLAHOMA CITY – Call it heart. Call it grit. Call it hustle.
Call it whatever you want, but regardless of your word selection, there’s no denying this: that was damn impressive.
The Boston Celtics trailed by as many as 18 points during a disturbingly ugly first half of play Friday night against the vaunted Oklahoma City Thunder. As Brad Stevens termed it, “Horrible basketball.”
Had anyone predicted during halftime that the C’s would do a 180 when play resumed, and that they would go on to grab the win, that person would have rightfully been called a fool.
In hindsight, they would have instead been called a genius.
Boston stormed back to grab a shocking and inspiring 101-94 win over the Thunder that silenced the hostile crowd inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and showed everyone who was watching that the C’s are indeed legit.
And now those C’s own outright the best record in all of the NBA.
Who was at the heart of this astonishing, come-from-behind victory? Everyone, to be quite honest.
That’s Celtics basketball, and that’s what made this performance all the more beautiful.
“We never want to be in this type of a hole,” Al Horford, the team’s de factor captain, said after the win, “but our guys showed Celtic Pride.”
“We were playing for one another,” he added. “We were trying to play the right way.”
That type of basketball changed everything for Boston. It turned what would have been an embarrassing loss into a momentous victory.
The C’s shot a woeful 31.0 percent from the field during the first half, and they struggled to breathe while crumbling under Oklahoma City’s pressure at both ends. It would have been easy to fold at that point, but instead, they banded together at halftime and made a joint decision to get back to their brand of ball.
“For us, it was just about the high motor we play with, and understanding that our system works, offensively and defensively,” said Kyrie Irving, who tallied team highs of 25 points and six assists. “It has yet to fail us.”
As the Celts returned to executing their system, every player who took the court made strong contributions.
Irving scored 22 of his 25 points during the second half and dished out all of his six assists while committing not a single turnover.
Horford was electric, swishing home big shot after big shot while shooting 5-for-5 from the field during the final period. He served multiple back-breaking jumpers to the Thunder, and he finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Jaylen Brown, who scored only two points during a forgetful first half, scored eight during the second half and hauled in a total of 12 rebounds. He lit a fire under the team with a monster dunk midway through the third quarter.
Marcus Morris, during his first action of the season, rebounded from a rough start and scored seven points during the second half, including five big ones at the start of the third quarter.
Semi Ojeleye canned a critical 3-pointer from the right corner to tie the game up at 79-79, all while providing strong defense at the other end.
The list goes on and on. Everyone contributed to the Celtics during the second half. Everyone played for the guy next to him. Boston shot 54.8 percent from the field over the final 24 minutes, all while limiting the Thunder to 33.3 percent shooting.
This type of win holds more meaning than just a simple notch in the win column. This type of win reinforces schemes, builds character, and bolsters confidence.
“I’m proud because we won the game, and that’s ultimately what we wanted,” said Horford, “but we just showed fight.”
Don’t underestimate how important that fact is. This is a young team, one that is headlined by Horford and Irving, but one that also relies heavily upon a handful of players who have fewer than three years of NBA experience. They need games like this.
On Friday, the entire group showed fight. It showed heart. It showed grit. And it showed hustle.
Boston shocked everyone who was watching by never saying die, and by battling back to pull off an incredible comeback.
Surely, the Thunder are sitting back and wondering how it happened. The Celtics, meanwhile, are proud of the way it happened – as they should be.
Damn, was that one impressive.