After advancing to the NBA Finals last season and entering this season as championship favorites, the Celtics knew they were going to get everyone’s best shot. In fact, they embraced it.
“We wanted this,” Grant Williams said late last month, as the C’s were going through their first slump of the season, punctuated by home losses to inferior opponents.
That rut taught the Celtics that they need to bring it every night, and not overlook teams they know they should beat. For Williams, doing so represents an important step of growth.
“If we do, that’s how we become a great team,” he said. “Right now we’re a good team but not great yet.”
The Celtics ended 2022 with an encouraging response by beating two championship-level teams, but have reverted back to old habits to begin 2023.
On paper, Tuesday’s game in Oklahoma City against the lottery-bound Thunder – who were missing leading scorer and budding superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – should have been a cakewalk for the Celtics. Instead, it was inexplicably the complete opposite. Without Gilgeous-Alexander, a Thunder roster full of unproven players handed the Celtics an embarrassing and historic 150-117 loss.
The Celtics gave up the second-most points in a game in franchise history in Tuesday’s loss, and it was the third time they’ve given up at least 150. The only time they gave up more was in a 1979 game against the Pistons, when they allowed 160. On Tuesday, it happened without Gilgeous-Alexander, who entered the night fifth in the NBA in scoring at 30.8 points per game.
Nothing went right for the Celtics. Their outside shooting struggled again. Marcus Smart was ejected. And their defense – which has made strides over the last month – produced a truly horrific performance. Seven Thunder players scored in double figures. Five of them – led by Josh Giddey’s 25 points – scored at least 20. Oklahoma City seemed to be running layup lines, and at times even dunk lines, on their way to 59.2 percent shooting from the floor.