The Celtics on Sunday let an 18-point first-half lead slip away and once again collapsed in the game’s final moments, this time suffering a 105-104 home loss to an Oklahoma City Thunder team that was missing leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Boston has now lost four of its last five games.
Gordon Hayward had 24 points to lead the Celtics but did not receive much help. Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker combined to make just 15 of 39 shots, and Jaylen Brown remained out with a strained hamstring.
The Celtics led 100-99 with just under three minutes left but then started to crumble. Walker attacked the hoop and missed an open layup he has made thousands of times. Then after two Paul free throws, Tatum missed a slightly more difficult but still quite makeable layup, and then Smart took his turn attacking the hoop and just lost the ball as he slipped out of bounds.
Still, Boston had a chance.
A Daniel Theis dunk pulled the Celtics within 103-102, and then Tatum made a great play to block a Dennis Schroder 3-pointer from the corner. Marcus Smart saved the ball, igniting a fast-break that led to a Tatum layup.
Tatum was called for fouling Steven Adams inside with 28.4 seconds left, but he missed both free throws and Paul missed a jumper after chasing down the rebound.
The Thunder were in a position in which they likely had to foul. Instead, the Celtics elected not to use a timeout to advance the ball, and Walker was stripped at Oklahoma City’s end of the floor and Schroder coasted in for a layup with 8.5 seconds left.
This time the Celtics used their timeout, but Tatum’s fadeaway attempt was not close.
Observations from the game:
♦ The Celtics haven’t had a ton of luck on coaches challenges this year, but they were successful on a big one midway through the fourth quarter. With 5:24 left and OKC leading, 97-96, Smart was whistled for fouling Schroder on a 3-pointer. It would have been Smart’s fifth foul and it would have given the Thunder three big free throws. But the review showed that Nerlens Noel committed an illegal screen.
♦ Grant Williams generated plenty of (unwanted) attenton when he started his NBA career by missing 25 3-pointers in a row. He mostly steadied himself after that, but another slightly smaller rut emerged over the past month. After starting the game by missing a pair of 3-pointers, Williams had been 0 for his last 13. Then in the third quarter he hit one of his most difficult attempts of all, a scattered, contested step-back try from the right corner.
♦ Hayward returned after missing a pair of games with a knee contusion, and the Celtics welcomed the pair of fresh legs. Hayward was eager and active at both ends in the first half. He stood his ground and blocked the bigger Danilo Gallinari at the rim late in the second quarter, then added a pair of 3-pointers soon after. Boston outscored Oklahoma City by 25 points during his 18 first-half minutes. He went to halftime with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
♦ Hayward’s 3-pointers came during a surge in which Boston drilled five threes in a row over a span of 2:30, stretching its lead to 18 points. The Thunder were wobbling, but they then closed the half with a 7-0 burst in the final minute to pull within 63-52 at the break. The Celtics missed a chance to really flatten Oklahoma City, and that run carried into the third quarter and became 12-0 before it ended.
♦ Romeo Langford had some productive first-half minutes. He attacked the basket a couple times and looked to draw contact, he hit a nice mid-range jumper and he played some solid defense against Thunder All-Star Chris Paul. He just would probably like to forget his baseline inbounds pass that landed in the hands of Dennis Schroder.
♦ With 6:21 left in the third quarter Smart dropped to the ground as he defended Adams in the post. There was a moment of awkwardness when no one was sure what had happened, and then the official stopped the action to review the play. The video appeared to show Smart taking an elbow to the face, but no foul was called after video review.
♦ Schroder should probably be getting some buzz for the Sixth Man of the Year award. The Thunder guard has been excellent. He came off the bench Sunday despite the absence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and sparked a 12-0 first-quarter run by the Thunder with a 4-point play that was followed by a 3-point play.