OKLAHOMA CITY – All it took was a simple halftime message to unlock the Boston Celtics.
Now the rest of the league may want to take notice.
Through the first four games of the season, the real Celtics seemed to be locked in a cage and hidden from sight. Their offense was anemic, and their frustrations were mounting.
Those trends continued well into Thursday night, when Boston mustered up only 34 first-half points against the winless Thunder in Oklahoma City. But at halftime, while trailing by 16 points, Brad Stevens found the key the team had been searching for, unlocking his players and allowing them to play free.
“Brad came in the locker room and told us, ‘We’re getting good shots, we’re playing good defense for the most part. We’re just too tense,’” star forward Jayson Tatum recalled. “Nobody was smiling. Nobody was having fun. And that was the difference in the second half.”
And, maybe, the difference in Boston’s season.
The second half was all about smiles. It was all about fun. It was, for the first time this season for Boston, all about scoring points.
The Celtics burst out of the locker room and scored 40 points during the third quarter alone. They scored 67 overall during the second half.
After shooting 0-for-11 from 3-point range during the first half, they drilled nine 3s during the first nine-plus minutes of the third quarter. They shot 11-for-20 overall from long distance during the second half.
Gordon Hayward got it all started with a 3-pointer to open the third quarter. Jayson Tatum soon followed with a high-flying dunk that dropped jaws throughout the arena. Then Kyrie Irving sandwiched two 3-pointers around a Jaylen Brown jumper.
Minutes later, Al Horford sank three 3-pointers in 41 seconds, the last of which was a catch-and-shoot 3 in transition that left Boston’s bench bouncing around in delight on the sideline.
“That was exciting to see the big fella knock em down like that,” Tatum said with a smile.
The biggest grins of all, however, were saved for the fourth quarter. Boston fell behind by nine points with 4:22 remaining but methodically whittled away at that deficit. Then, with 28.7 seconds left on the game clock, Marcus Morris canned a 3-pointer from the left wing to account for the game-winning points.
Morris capped a memorable second half for the Celtics, one that showed them exactly how powerful they can be at the offensive end of the court. They now exit Oklahoma City knowing just how powerful their offense can be.
“We’re capable of doing that any quarter, anytime,” Irving said of Boston’s 40-point explosion during the third quarter. He later added, “It felt good to go out there and focus on who we are as a team, and how special we can be.”
‘Special’ is what everyone thought the Boston Celtics would be heading into this season, and maybe that was the source of the problems they experienced during the first week and a half of the season. Irving admitted that preseason hype could very well have gone to Boston’s collective head, causing the team to struggle mightily at the offensive end.
At halftime of Thursday’s game in Oklahoma City, however, all of Boston’s issues seemed to vanish in an instant.
Said Stevens, “We finally looked like ourselves again.”
The coach delivered a simple message to his team to lead to that result: loosen up, have fun, and enjoy the ride.
If the rest of the season is anything like Thursday’s second half, that shouldn’t be much of a problem.