Normally three is better than two.
That wasn’t the case Friday night in Oklahoma City.
The Boston Celtics’ dynamic duo of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford rallied the Celtics from an 18-point deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder’s new Big Three in a 101-94 win at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Irving and Horford were completely neutralized during the first half of the game, as the Thunder’s ferocious defense held the C’s stars to six combined points. But Boston came out of the locker room with a renewed purpose, and the comeback was led by Irving and Horford.
The Celtics 1-2 punch scored 39 of Boston’s 64 second-half points, and took over the game in the fourth quarter with a potent two-man game.
Irving (25 points) and Horford (20 points) went toe-to-toe with the Thunder’s Big Three of Russell Westbrook (19 points), Paul George (25 points) and Carmelo Anthony (10 points), and it resulted in a unanimous knockout by Boston’s frontmen.
The Thunder stars combined to score 24 points in the second half, as Boston’s tenacious defense forced them to take tough looks in isolation sets.
Meanwhile, Irving scored or assisted on 37 of Boston’s 64 second-half points, and he outplayed his counterpart, Westbrook, down the stretch.
With the Thunder leading by three with five minutes left, Irving drove into the lane and kicked the ball out to wide-open Horford in the corner. The star center splashed the 3-pointer to give Boston its first lead since the first quarter.
George responded with a thunderous dunk to trim the lead to one. But on the next possession, Irving took a handoff from Horford and buried a 3-pointer while getting hit by Westbrook. The Celtics star would miss the free throw, but he was able to secure the rebound and put it back up and in for your everyday 5-point play.
A 5-0 run by Westbrook and George cut the lead to one with 1:13 left, but Marcus Smart found Horford for another trey. Then, on the next possession, Irving dished to the big man for a mid-range jumper to swell the lead to six.
A George 3-pointer cut the lead to three with 37 seconds left, but Irving blew past Andre Roberson, the Thunder’s best on-ball defender, and finished at the rim to put the icing on the comeback win.
While a win in November can hardly be called a statement win, Boston’s resolve, and more importantly, the play of Irving and Horford, should give the Celtics’ confidence that they have a chance to beat any team when these two are clicking.
A lot has been made of Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury, and rightfully so. But the Celtics still have two stars, and Friday they were better than the NBA’s newest Big Three.
Here are more notes from Celtics-Thunder:
— The Celtics became the first team in NBA history to win seven consecutive games after starting the season 0-2.
— Head coach Brad Stevens continues to praise the play of rookie Semi Ojeleye.
— Reggie Miller would be proud of Irving’s description of the fourth quarter.
Thumbnail photo via Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports Images
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