OKLAHOMA CITY — As the Boston Celtics walked to the locker room at halftime, trailing the Oklahoma City Thunder by 16 points and staring in the face of a 2-3 start that would in no way represent the talent on the roster, star guard Kyrie Irving turned to his big man Al Horford.
“We’ve got to set the tone,” Irving said, according to Horford. “We have to be more aggressive.”
“And he was right,” Horford said, after the Celtics rallied for a 101-95 victory. “He started in the third and I tried to do my part and just play with more freedom out there.”
In the first half, the Celtics relied on Jayson Tatum, who mixed OKC defenders into slushies and dunked on Paul George’s head. But the rest of the team continued to look like they were trying very hard not to step on anyone’s toes — occasionally over-passing and often settling for tough shots deep in the shot clock.
The Celtics needed direction. So Horford and Irving provided.
Gordon Hayward got the scoring started, canning a corner triple at the start of the half to break the Celtics’ 0-for-11 start, and Irving hit a couple above-the-break threes to pull the Celtics closer. But it was Al Horford’s 3-point barrage — three of them, all within a 41-second span — that truly closed the gap, sparking a 9-2 run and getting Boston within six. The Celtics finished off their run from there.
“(The first one) felt good,” Horford said. “Then after that I was like, I’m not even going to think about it. I’m just going to shoot them.”
“Stop overthinking about how we’re ‘supposed’ to be playing,” Irving said, when asked what he told Horford. “I think it’s just a new challenge for all of us. It really just comes down to our attitude. And that’s what we all talked about in the locker room — just having fun out there and supporting one another. It’s a hard thing to hold onto of being a certain way for a certain amount of time in your career and then when you come into a situation like this where you’re playing with a lot of good players sometimes you can dim down how special you are or overthink how you’re supposed to be playing. So I think for us we just all wanted to come out and just really have fun.”
The Celtics scored 40 points in the quarter, taking a 74-73 lead into the fourth. The biggest difference: Horford’s shoot-first mentality.
“It’s different, but it’s something that Kyrie talked about,” Horford said. “It’s like, we need to be more aggressive on offense. And with so many moving pieces that we have and Gordon and everybody, it’s like I’m trying to kind of find my way, right, and play team ball. But we had to get this win tonight.”
Tatum was asked if he had ever seen Horford get that hot from three.
“Not back-to-back-to-back like that,” Tatum said, smiling. “It was exciting to see the big fella knocking them down like that. … It was big. We didn’t hit any threes in the first quarter. I think we hit 11 in the second half. We just needed some shots to fall.”