Celtics Live Blog: Paul Pierce Scores 24 Points But Russell Westbrook, Thunder Hand C’s 97-88 Loss

by NESN Staff

January 16, 2012

Celtics Live Blog: Paul Pierce Scores 24 Points But Russell Westbrook, Thunder Hand C's 97-88 LossEnd of game, Thunder win 97-88: Russell Westbrook can be maddening. He can highjack the offense, obstinantly refusing to pass to the most efficient scorer in the game, teammate Kevin Durant.

Westbrook can also be thrilling. He was Monday, helping the Thunder crush a Celtics uprising and handing Boston its fifth consecutive loss.

When the Celtics pulled within two points at the 5:23 mark in the fourth quarter, Durant scored Oklahoma City's next two baskets to hold off the C's. When Mickael Pietrus hit a long jumper to bring Boston within three points with 2:28 left, though, Westbrook laid the series of daggers.

Westbrook, whose distributing abilities are rightfully criticized, found a wide-open Thabo Sefolosha on the possession immediately following Pietrus' shot. After Rajon Rondo put back his own miss, Westbrook stepped back and drilled a 3-pointer. Just as quickly as Pietrus responded with his third 3, Westbrook came back with another triple after playing with his defender for a few seconds.

Westbrook finished with 26 points and seven rebounds, but with an always-disappointing four assists. Durant led all scorers with 28 points, plus seven rebounds. Kendrick Perkins, in his first game wearing a non-Celtics uniform inside the TD Garden, played 28 solid minutes with seven points, five rebounds and four fouls.

Pierce looked like something resembling his true self, scoring 24 points, but he faded down the stretch. Kevin Garnett had another strong game defensively and on the glass, but has a tough night shooting 5-of-19. Pietrus was 3-for-6 from beyond the arc and finished with 14 points.

Jermaine O'Neal had 12 points and 11 rebounds while Rajon Rondo quietly came close to a triple-double with 12 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

Fourth quarter, :51.1, Thunder 92-85: Pietrus has no conscience. The Celtics reserve attempted his sixth three-ball in just over 20 minutes of playing time and hit it to close the deficit to 89-85.

Westbrook doesn't have a conscience either, though, taking a step-back 3 to probably put the dagger in the C's.

Fourth quarter, 1:31, Thunder 89-82: With the rest of the world focused on Durant, the rest of the Thunder were able to find spaces in the Celtics' defense. A spot-up 3 by Sefolosha and another trey by Westbrook re-established the Thunder's lead. After hitting no 3-pointers in the first half, OKC has five since.

Fourth quarter, 4:06, Thunder 83-78: Stars close games. Last Wednesday, after the Celtics tied the game in the fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki hit the game-winner. On Friday, after the Celtics closed to within a point late in the fourth quarter, Derrick Rose led a dominant Bulls team to victory.

It's Kevin Durant's turn.

Pierce lofted a 3 over Durant's fingers to cut the C's deficit to 78-76, but Durant answered with a crossover dribble leading to a 3. Garnett hit two free throws to cut the lead back to 81-78, but Durant unleashed a hesitation dribble for an unstoppable drive and one-handed dunk.

Fourth quarter, 7:36, Thunder 74-69: The rest of the league doesn't trust the Celtics' record. The Thunder surely are aware of the Celtics' near-comebacks against the Mavericks and Bulls, and aren't fooled by Boston's 4-7 mark.

Pierce went 2-for-2 from the foul line, then corraled a Collison airball and fed Rondo, who found Pietrus in transition for a 3.

The Thunder, with a five-point lead, need to discuss their plan for the next 7:36.

Fourth quarter, 8:50, Thunder 74-64: The fourth quarter started slowly, but the Thunder managed to keep their 10-point lead intact with a bench-heavy unit of Sefolosha, Collison, Harden, Daequan Cook and Reggie Jackson on the floor.

The Celtics were unable to cut into the lead with a lineup that included Allen, Rondo and Bass with Pietrus and Moore.

Pierce slowed down after his flurry to end the second quarter and open the third. He entered the fourth quarter shooting 7-of-12 and is stuck on 19 points.

End of third quarter, Thunder 72-62: The Thunder just waited. While the Celtics went all-out, expending all their energy to finally tie the game at 57-57 on consecutive baskets by O'Neal, the Thunder bounced back with an and-one layup by Perkins, a free throw by Westrook and a layup by Sefolosha to take back the lead.

Rondo snapped almost two minutes without a basket for Boston with 3:09 left, but following Rondo's layup a Mickael Pietrus 3-pointer was the Celtics' only scoring for the remainder of the quarter.

The Thunder went on a 9-3 run, ending with an embarrassing steal and dunk by Sefolosha to stretch the lead back to 10 points.

Third quarter, 6:34, Thunder 57-53: For the first time this season, Pierce looks like he has his legs under him. He has had high-scoring games, but this the first time he doesn't look like he's forcing things.

With Pierce leading the way, the Celtics closed the gap to one point three times in the third quarter, lastly on a driving layup by Pierce.

Twice, it was Perkins who spread the lead again, first with a layup from Durant and then with a rousing dunk. After Pierce's last shot, Rondo forced a steal but Garnett turned the ball back over to the Thunder, who made Boston pay with a 3 by Durant.

Third quarter, 8:50, Thunder 50-49: Welcome to the semi-nightly second-half comeback by the Celtics.

As is their habit, the Celtics put together an impressive comeback against a formidable opponent. Pierce led the attack, scoring twice to begin the third quarter, giving him 10 straight Boston points. O'Neal and Rondo got in on the action, with Rondo's layup tightening the Thunder's lead to a single point.

Halftime, Thunder 46-39: A seven-point deficit is nothing to be outwardly concerned about, except for a few warning signs for Boston.

As usual, the C's are being outrebounded. The margin is 24-19, but it started to grow toward the end of the half when the Celtics got more tired. There are 24 minutes of game time to go and the fatigue will only get worse.

Another troubling sign is that even with a seven-point lead, Oklahoma City has yet to hit a 3-pointer. The Thunder are a 37 percent shooting team from long range, so when those shots start to fall, this game could turn ugly.

The Good: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are unique players. Durant is a forward, but he has 16 points on mostly outside jumpers and driving layups. Westbrook is a point guard, but he shares the team scoring lead with Durant with 16 points and has just two assists. … Paul Pierce looks close to full strength for the first time all season. He has hit half of his six shots and is 4-for-4 from the foul line for 11 points. … Nick Collison really gave the Celtics big men trouble off the bench. In just 9:19, Collison grabbed four rebounds and scored two baskets. He had three personal fouls, but that's almost to be expected for a backup post player on a physical team.

The Bad: Brandon Bass had a rough 14:09, missing all three shots he took and failing to get a single rebound. He had a shot blocked and would be scoreless if not for two foul shots.

The So-so: Say what you want about Jermaine O'Neal. He's old, he's foul-prone (although he has only one foul so far in 17:25), he's no longer a threat on offense. But JO does yeoman's work in the post, and he had five rebounds in the first half. The 33-year-old can't do it all on his own against one of the deepest and most complementary post rotations in the NBA.

Second quarter, :46.9, Thunder 44-39: Pierce needs to get back to 100 percent quickly if the Celtics are to have anything resembling a successful season.

The Celtics captain seemed to heat up in the last minute, using a trip to the foul line to start a personal streak. He followed those free throws with two tough layups off the dribble to pull within five of OKC.

Second quarter, 4:30, Thunder 38-31: This is who the Celtics are. They can manage enough of a push to get the score close or even tie, but then often don't have enough to get over the hump.

O'Neal and Allen executed a perfect screen-and-dish to open up O'Neal for a dunk, leading to a floater by Rondo to get within 34-31. The Thunder answered quickly with jumpers by Ibaka and Westbrook, and Ibaka cleanly contested inside looks by Bass and Garnett.

Second quarter, 6:16, Thunder 32-27: Maybe the Thunder are confused because Daniels is suddenly scoring.

Daniels got another layup, assisted by Bass, and although Nick Collison was able to immediately respond with reverse dunk, Daniels' bucket opened a mini run for Boston. Layups by Rondo and Allen closed the gap to five points.

Second quarter, 8:46, Thunder 27-19: In a good sign for the team's worst shooter statistically, Daniels slipped into the lane for a layup. Daniels, a solid defender, entered the game shooting 27.1 percent.

That's Daniels' first basket in four games.

Second quarter, 10:05, Thunder 25-17: The Celtics begin the second quarter with Mickael Pietrus, E'Twaun Moore and Marquis Daniels on the floor with Garnett and Bass in an attempt to give them a spark.

End of first quarter, Thunder 25-15: If the outside jumpshot isn't falling, the creaky Celtics simply have no other place to go.

Boston ended the first quarter shooting 6-for-22 from the field. Part of that had to do with Oklahoma City's defense, especially the Thunder's four blocked shots, but just as much had to do with the Celtics' inability to generate any open shots besides long jumpers.

The lone Boston points in the final 3 minutes, 23 seconds of the quarter was — you guessed it — a midrange turnaround jumper by Garnett. In the same span the Thunder got two short jumpers by Westbrook and four free throws (all makes) by Durant and Westbrook.

First quarter, 3:23, Thunder 17-13: In most lists of the top point guards in the NBA, Westbrook is placed above Rondo. In some, he's even listed about Chris Paul.

That's not quite accurate. Westbrook isn't really a classic point guard, as evidenced by Oklahoma City's poor assist rate. Westbrook is a scorer, pure and simple, just like teammate Durant.

The pair showed off their ability to fill it up by responding to a 3-pointer by Allen that gave the Celtics an 11-9 lead. Westbrook hit a tough jumper, Durant outran two Boston defenders for a layup and then Westbrook read a poor pass by Allen for a steal and dunk to finish the 6-0 run.

Rondo, as pure a point guard as their is, scored on a layup to stop the run.

First quarter, 6:20, Thunder 9-8: The Thunder are younger, deeper and more athletic in the post.

Add "stronger fundamentally" to that list as well.

Ibaka gave the Thunder their first lead on a dunk, despite fumbling the assist from Durant. But Ibaka and Perins have been active defensively and on the boards by gaining better position than the C's.

Garnett and O'Neal have each made the cardinal sin of bringing the ball down after catching it at the rim. It led to both getting blocked by Iblocka — I mean, Ibaka.

First quarter, 7:25, Celtics 8-7: Perkins promised that if best friend Rondo barrelled down the lane, he would not be reluctant to put Rondo on the ground. Well, he didn't lie. Rondo tried to spring by Perk on a fastbreak and Perkins fouled Rondo hard.

First quarter, 10:59, game tied 2-2: You've got to admire the sports knowledge of Boston fans. Garnett hit a baseline jumper off a feed from Rondo, marking a rare make for the Celtics on their first shot. The first-quarter lead, thought to be extinct for the Celtics at TD Garden, elicits a mock cheer from the crowd.

Durant spoiled the brief party with a jumper over Pierce, but the moment was nice while it lasted.

7:45 p.m.: Celtics fans might not recognize Kendrick Perkins when he jogs out for the opening tip-off.

Perkins is at least 10 pounds lighter than the 280-pound weight he carried as a Celtic. A noticeably slimmer Perkins will make his 14th start of the season for the Thunder.

Here's a look at the probable starters.

Kendrick Perkins
Serge Ibaka
Kevin Durant
Thabo Sefolosha
Russell Westbrook

Jermaine O'Neal
Kevin Garnett
Paul Pierce
Ray Allen
Rajon Rondo 

8 :30 a.m.: Kendrick Perkins spent 7 1/2 seasons in Boston, and on Monday night he returns in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform.

While the going has been rough for the Celtics (4-7) since they traded Perkins and Nate Robinson for Jeff Green, Nena Krstic and a 2012 draft pick last season, Perkins has had no such trouble. The 6-foot-10 center out of Clifton J. Ozen High School in Beaumont, Texas, has started all 13 games for the Thunder (11-2), who hold the best record in the Western Conference.

Perkins is sure to get cheers when he is introduced before the game. Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8 p.m.

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