Celtics lose 5th straight, fall to Thunder, 119-104

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Celtics lose 5th straight, fall to Thunder, 119-104

OKLAHOMA CITY The Boston Celtics had one of their best nights offensively in the first half, and there they were still getting smashed by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With key Celtics out with injuries (Chris Wilcox, Jermaine O'Neal, Brandon Bass) and suspension (Rajon Rondo), the Thunder treated the wounded Celtics for most of the first half just how you would a team that's hurting -- put them down emphatically, quickly.

But this is a veteran Celtics team, one with players with lots of come-from-behind wins and a ton of pride.

It came through in the second half, but it wasn't enough, as the Thunder pulled away for a 119-104 win.

After trailing by as many as 27 points in the third quarter, the Celtics closed out the third with a 24-11 run and trailed, 94-80, going into the fourth.

Boston continued to chip away, making it a six-point game after Paul Pierce made one of two free throws.

But a pair of free throws by Oklahoma City's James Harden and a Kevin Durant bank-shot pushed the Thunder's lead back to double digits with 2:46 to play.

From there, the Thunder's control of the game was never an issue.

Boston has too much pride, too much tradition to make a big deal out of playing the Thunder close.

But there's no mistaking that this team, for all their flaws, showed the kind of fight that makes you wonder just how they would have fared had they had one, maybe two more bodies available.

The strong play at the end of the third by Boston and into the fourth, was similar to how they began the game.

Boston opened the game playing surprisingly well, jumping out to a 22-12 lead.

The double-digit deficit may have been just the wake-up call the Thunder needed, as they responded with a furious 23-3 run to close out the first quarter which ended with them ahead, 35-25.

Oklahoma City continued to pour on the points in the second before gong into the half with a commanding 72-49 lead.

Kevin Garnett, who returned to the Celtics lineup after missing a pair of games to attend to a personal family matter, was very productive for the C's.

At the half, he had 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting with eight rebounds.

Now the C's hit the All-Star break after going 0-for-the-road in what players and coaches alike said would be a telling trip.

Truthfully, it only confirmed what we have seen play out most of the season in Boston.

This team can't stay healthy. And because of that, no one -- not Rivers, not Danny Ainge, not the players -- has a true feel for whether this team will ever reach its potential.

That puts Ainge, president of basketball operations, in a tough spot. He has said that he wants to see how this team, when healthy, functions on the floor.

But if they can never stay healthy enough to play, the pursuit of potential trades between now and the NBA trading deadline will only increase.

"It's tough, especially when you go on this road trip, and you just want to be healthy," Rivers said recently. "And you just haven't had that opportunity. This is a road trip I've really been looking forward to. We thought a week ago, Kevin was going to be good and Brandon (Bass) was going to be healthy and now you don't have either ... that makes it a tough trip."

HOT SHOT

Kevin Garnett returned from a two-game absence attending to a personal matter, and didn't seem to miss a beat. Despite being the Celtic's primary big man -- which made targeting him defensively a no-brainer for the Thunder -- Garnett had 23 points along with 13 rebounds for his team-leading ninth double-double of the season.

"He was terrific to watch and compete," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

IN-N-OUT

It was a good thing that Paul Pierce was getting to the free throw line. For most of the game, Pierce struggled mightily to make shots before finishing with a 5-for-15 shooting line. Him getting into early foul trouble, however, posed an even bigger problem for Boston.

"I hurt us by getting into foul trouble," Pierce acknowledged. "But overall, I saw positive things from this game."

Like his success at beating his man off the dribble and getting into the paint which, more often than not, resulted in free throws. Despite his poor shooting, Pierce still managed to score 23 points, good enough to share team-high scoring honors with Garnett.

SUPER SUB

James Harden continues to be the best backup in the NBA, a major cog in the Thunder's machine-like precision when it comes to winning. Harden finished with 17 points on 6-for-10 along with seven assists and two steals.

TURNING POINT

With Oklahoma City leading 108-101 with 3:31 to play, Paul Pierce went to the free throw line with a chance to make it a five-point game. He missed the first, but made the second. The Celtics could not get any closer as the Thunder finished the game with an 11-2 run.

BY THE NUMBERS

4: That would be the number of starters (Jermaine O'Neal, Rajon Rondo) or rotation players (Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox) the Celtics were missing against the Thunder.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"This effort we played with tonight is what we need to do every game from here on out."- Celtics guard Ray Allen.

Drellich: Why David Ortiz should hang around the Red Sox more often

Drellich: Why David Ortiz should hang around the Red Sox more often

BOSTON — David Ortiz should stop by Fenway Park more often. 

There may be no tangible gain for his old teammates. At this point, it defies logic to think there’d be tangible harm.

On Thursday evening before Ortiz’s charity roast at House of Blues, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy recalled how it was a no-brainer to plan Friday’s jersey retirement so soon after Ortiz’s exit from the game. 

Kennedy said he was the one who actually broached the question with team management last year. Basically, everyone looked at him sideways because of the implication any other time but right away made sense.

“No person has meant more to the [John] Henry-[Larry] Lucchino-[Tom] Werner era than David Ortiz,” Kennedy said.

Let’s accept the premise wholly: that because Ortiz is so special, the timing for his ceremony deserved to be just as unique. The design of the day was centered on how much Ortiz means to people: fans, the team.

Why, then, has Ortiz been staying away from the ballclub? Dustin Pedroia has been a leader for years. Ortiz is a positive influence. The idea that having Big Papi swing by Fenway sometimes would actively stunt the development of the Red Sox’ identity is a stretch. 

There’s been a grace period of nearly three months. 

“Well I, I could never entirely walk away. I have been around,” Ortiz said Friday night in a press conference. “I have been watching the games and I have been in touch with my teammates. I have been in touch with the organization. You know, I just don’t like to, you know, be in the way of anything. 

“I know that, me retiring, it was going to have a big impact on what we do around here. So I don’t — I tell myself, give everybody their space and I don’t want to, now that I’m not playing, I don’t want to be a distraction. And I know that coming to the field sometimes, it can cause a distraction or something, so. I have been able to keep my distance so I’m not in nobody’s way. But I stay in touch with everybody and I have been pretty busy also, doing a lot of things. 

“But me and the organization, we’ve been talking for a while about me working with the organization. Probably Sam Kennedy can give you guys more info about it. But it’s going to happen, and at some point I’m going to be able to help out somewhere, somehow some way.”

It’d be ridiculous to say Ortiz is the reason Rick Porcello pitched well and Hanley Ramirez homered Friday. It’d be a flat-out lie.

But Ortiz’s presence shouldn’t somehow be a distraction, if leadership and the mentality in the Red Sox clubhouse is as the Red Sox describe it.

"Pedey has been a leader of this team for the entire time he's been here,” manager John Farrell said Friday. “To me, the clubhouse has been a place where guys have felt comfortable. They've been able to come in and be themselves. They have rallied around one another when times have called for that. When you remove an individual, there are going to be other people who step up. I firmly believe that has taken place.”

If that’s the case, then how does what Farrell said in the same pregame press conference yesterday make sense?

“[Ortiz] has a keen awareness that he could potentially keep others from flourishing with the potential thought and the question always being there,” Farrell said. “Well, he is around, is he ever coming back? All the things that I think have been reported on to a certain extent. I think David's keen awareness of himself and how a team works, I wouldn't be surprised if that is at the root of his decision to keep the space that he's done.”

But that decision seems flawed. No one in that room should be hurt or confused by Ortiz coming by occasionally — absolutely not now that the jersey’s hanging. (A little speculation he could un-retire was throwing the Sox off their game? Really?) 

If anything, the team should find comfort in seeing such an important, charismatic man with ties to the group.

Ortiz is special. The team has adapted well without him. If those are facts, the need for Ortiz to stay away doesn’t make sense.

Did Suns ask Josh Jackson to cancel his Celtics workout to keep him from Boston?

Did Suns ask Josh Jackson to cancel his Celtics workout to keep him from Boston?

Danny Ainge made no secret of being miffed when Kansas small forward Josh Jackson canceled his workout with the Celtics in Sacramento at the last minute. 

The Celtics, of course, passed on Jackson and selected Jayson Tatum of Duke with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday night.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough's comments at Jackson's introductory press conference lend some credence to the theory that the canceled workout was part of Phoenix's plan to keep the Celtics from selecting Jackson and leave him for the Suns at No. 4.

Check out this portion of Jackson's presser via a tweet from Mike McClune of KPHO-TV: 

"I think you guys who know me well know how competitive I am. Look, it is a competition," said McDonough, a former assistant GM to Ainge with the C's "The Celtics were ahead of us at No. 3 and they could have selected whoever they wanted to. I think they got a very good player in Jayson Tatum, but that doesn’t mean B.J. [Armstrong, Jackson's agent] and I and...other members of my staff couldn’t talk and try to formulate the best plan to get a player we were really high on to a place we felt he really wanted to go and would be a great fit for him.

"We played by the rules – I guess,” McDonough said to some laughter in the room.

Jackson will certainly get more playing time with the rebuilding Suns that the contending Celtics. Ainge called Jackson "a terrific kid and a good player” after the draft, and said the Celtics were set on Tatum all along, even if they hadn't traded the No. 1 pick.

Jackson said his decision to blow off Ainge coach Brad Stevens and assistant GM Mike Zarren after their cross-country flight was "last-minute" and his plans to work out "just didn't work out."