BOSTON — Gerald Wallace was so disgusted by the question, he cut it off before the reporter could even finish getting the words out of his mouth.
True, the Oklahoma City Thunder did not have Kevin Durant, who was nursing a shoulder injury suffered in the previous game. But in no way did that mean the Boston Celtics took the Thunder lightly in their game Friday. Wallace wouldn’t hear of it.
Until, of course, he basically confirmed the sentiment with his answer.
“Are you serious?” Wallace said. “We played one of the best teams in the Western Conference. If you’re a player in this league, there’s no way you should take those guys not serious, no matter who’s playing. The main thing was, we just laid down. I think we thought, just because he wasn’t playing [Friday], they were just going to bend over and hand us the win, and that wasn’t the case.”
With Durant on the shelf, the Thunder turned to the ever-improving Serge Ibaka and blossoming combo guard Jeremy Lamb to run away with a 101-83 victory over the Celtics at TD Garden. Led by 21 points from Ibaka and 19 points from Lamb, the Thunder (34-10) recovered after trailing by as many as five points in the second quarter to hand the Celtics (15-30) one of their most dispiriting defeats of the season.
In a season like this, that’s saying something.
“Very disappointed,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I don’t want to knock the effort per se, because I think you had some guys that were really locked in and really played hard effort-wise, but collectively we were not engaged defensively.”
Stevens wasn’t all that impressed with his team’s first quarter, when the Celtics shot 11 for 15 from the floor and recorded 10 assists on 11 field goals. Dubbing those gaudy numbers “fool’s gold,” the coach was unable to name a single positive out of the performance.
“We just made jump shots [in the] first quarter,” Stevens said. “We weren’t engaged the whole night. That was my take on it.”
Two days removed from a last-second win over the Washington Wizards, the Celtics exhibited a much different demeanor in the locker room on Friday. Jared Sullinger, who dislocated his right index finger in the first half, snapped “Google it” when asked how long the injury might linger. Rajon Rondo gave the briefest of postgame interviews after the rest of his teammates had left the locker room, admitting that he’s not making the plays he’s used to making. Stevens, whose boundless optimism has contrasted greatly with the Celtics’ stark situation all season, couldn’t muster an encouraging word.
“Today counts as a bad night,” Stevens said. “That was not a good performance.”
Reluctantly, as usual, Rondo agreed to field a couple of questions from reporters at his locker prior to the game. The questions ranged from his health status coming back from his torn ACL to this week’s report that the Celtics had offered him a contract extension, but the point guard offered little in the way of information.
One topic Rondo did broach was him sitting out the second leg of back-to-backs, as he did Wednesday in Washington, D.C. That appears to stay the plan going forward. The Celtics have two back-to-backs, both of which are part of the dreaded three-games in four-night stretches, before the All-Star break. Rondo said he expects to sit out at least one game in both sets.
“I’ve been sitting for the last 40 games or so,” Rondo said. “I think we have two in the next month, back-to-backs, so I won’t be sitting out too many more. Better safe than sorry.”
Friday’s game marked the first time in Thunder history that neither Durant nor Russell Westbrook was in the lineup. In every game since the franchise moved from Seattle in 2008, at least one of them has suited up in OKC’s technicolor uniforms, according to Royce Young of the Daily Thunder.
Clearly, the Thunder are more than just two stud players. They had more than enough to come out with a victory — against the Celtics, anyway.
“Going into the game, I knew they were going to accept the challenge,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “One of the things about our team, we play hard every night. We take pride in playing hard no matter who’s on the floor. Obviously, we’re a better team with Kevin and Russell, but that doesn’t make us not a team. We focus on just doing all the ‘team’ things, like we’ve always done with all our guys in the group.”
The “team” things Brooks was referring to were OKC’s work in the paint, on the glass and on defense. The Thunder outscored the Celtics in the paint 48-36 and dominated the rebounding battle 45-32. They held the Celtics to 5-for-27 shooting from beyond the arc, including a 1-for-8 showing by Celtics forward Jeff Green on 3-point attempts.