OKLAHOMA CITY — These are not Rick Pitino's Boston Celtics, when closes losses were viewed as moral victories.
While the Celtics certainly see plenty to build off of in their 91-79 loss to Oklahoma City, the C's take no solace in the game because the outcome - a defeat - is not what they wanted or expected.
Boston had turned the ball over 19 times and Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Jeff Green were a combined 7-for-25 shooting going into the fourth quarter when the C's trailed by just three points.
"It's encouraging," said Garnett, who finished the game with 10 points on 5-for-19 shooting. "But we get nothing for moral victories. We just try to use it for the next game."
That would be against the Charlotte Bobcats, who, despite their struggles, present a different set of challenges to the Celtics.
Regardless of the opponent, Boston understands that committing as many mistakes as they did combined with the struggles their core guys had in making shots, can make every opponent - even the Bobkitties - a tough foe.
Here are some other factors outlined prior to Sunday's game, and how they actually played out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston's second unit has been a difference-maker of late, and that certainly was the case when these two met back in November. The C's second unit outscored their Oklahoma City counterparts by a decisive 35-13 margin in Boston's 108-100 victory.
WHAT WE SAW: The start of the fourth quarter was the game's turning point, and it was Oklahoma City's backups that led the way. For the game, they outscored their Boston counterparts, 32-23. But in terms of impact, Oklahoma City's second unit delivered won in all phases of play from scoring, to rebounding (14-9) to assists (7-2).
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MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs. Russell Westbrook. Bradley's ability to not just defend at a high level but also contribute offensively, will be challenged against Westbrook. While most see Westbrook as an explosive scorer, he is emerging as an under-rated defender who can be disruptive to a team's offense with his strength, quickness and ball instincts.
WHAT WE SAW: It's rare that these kind of matchups live up to the hype, but it was clear from the outset that these two were ready to go at each other ... hard. Westbrook's team got the win, but the one-on-one duel went to Bradley - barely. Scoring for both guards was about even (Westbrook had 15 while Bradley had 12), but Bradley was 5-for-10 shooting, had five assists with just one turnover and snatched three rebounds. Meanwhile, Westbrook's 15 points had a decent night shooting the ball (5-for-11), but only had one rebound and two assists while turning the ball over three times.
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PLAYER TO WATCH: Without question it has to be Jeff Green. He is playing his best basketball of the season which he hopes to continue doing against his former team. When the two met earlier this season, Green had 17 points off the bench.
WHAT WE SAW: Like most of his teammates, Green struggled to make shots. It was hard to tell whether it was first-game jitters being back in Oklahoma City, the Thunder defense, or just one of those off nights that all players experience from time to time. Green had eight points while shooting 2-for-11 from the field and only grabbed two rebounds. "Today we rushed (shots); I know I rushed," Green said. "I was over-thinking everything. We just have to get back to the way we play."
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STAT TO TRACK: Oklahoma City's high-scoring offense is fueled in part by their ability to get out and score in transition. This season, the Thunder average an NBA-best 16.9 fast-break points per game. In Boston's 108-100 win over Oklahoma City on Nov. 23, the Thunder were were limited to just nine fast-break points.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston's transition defense was solid limiting the Thunder to just 8 fast-break points while scoring 11 of their own. But too many fouls in half court sets by the Celtics ultimately sealed Boston's fate as the Thunder went to the line 33 times compared to just 20 free throw attempts for the Celtics.