Tempo kept them up
Westbrook paced Thunder offense
Forget the win-one-for-KD speeches. Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks went with an anti-motivational pregame talk last night and it worked as the Thunder took an 89-84 victory over the Celtics.
It is not easy to convince a bunch of 21-year-olds to curb their enthusiasm, especially when the team has been built around a fast-paced philosophy. But with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green injured, the Thunder went into a first-gear game plan in an attempt to limit the Celtics’ possessions.
“We slowed it down a lot, got rebounds,’’ said Russell Westbrook, who scored 31 points, a week after going for a career-high 36 points against Portland. “Usually we push it up the floor. You’ve got to be conservative and take a good shot, especially on the road. You can’t afford to have bad possessions, bad shots, so we took our time.’’
The Thunder seldom had a chance to get into a transition game, their offense consisting of Westbrook milking the shot clock, then dribble-driving off screens. The Celtics failed to adjust, Rajon Rondo spending much of the game reaching in, then playing with foul trouble in the final quarter.
“I knew going into the game we would have to play just an ugly game, if you want to call it ugly,’’ Brooks said. “But our guys really battled and picked up the effort throughout the game. It was a good win for us. Having KD and Jeff out, it’s not the easiest thing to do.
“Controlling the game was the most important part of our game plan and Russell did a phenomenal job, just controlling the tempo, making sure everybody is in their place before the play is run.’’
Westbrook was winning the point guard battle when Rondo committed his fourth and fifth personal fouls in a 52-second stretch in the fourth. His first sent Westbrook to the line for two made free throws and an 83-74 lead. Then, with a chance to cut the Celtics’ deficit to 5, a Rondo charge at 6:19 was his fifth foul of the game.
The Thunder converted only two field goals in the final quarter, none in the final 9:28. But Oklahoma City remained composed, and was comfortable idling its engines.
“Rondo is one of the best point guards in the game,’’ Brooks said. “He breaks down the defense, he’s an incredible player. You can throw anything at him and he understands what it takes to break you down and he does it. I thought Russell did a good job of doing the best he can to control him.
“The good thing about it, he was controlling the shot clock — he wasn’t taking some of the wild shots early in the shot clock, but he controlled it. We didn’t get the best shots, but we defended in the fourth quarter. That’s what it takes to win games on the road. In the fourth quarter, you have to play great defense.’’
Though Westbrook performed like a grizzled veteran, Brooks had to remind him of his role.
“One thing, Russell’s very competitive,’’ Brooks said. “He has a spirit that’s not going to back down. Sometimes you have to back down and get your guys involved, and that’s what I told him: You’ve got four other guys out there working just as hard as you. Believe in them, use them, take advantage of them.
“Russell’s an incredible, dynamic scorer, and he feels he can get to the basket and we like him to do that, but he has to pick and choose his spots.
“He’s not a finished product, he’s going to continue to get better, and this is an opportunity for him to learn.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.