OKLAHOMA CITY — It seems Brad Stevens had exhausted all his options to spark a team that was playing listless and uninspired Saturday against a Thunder team that resembled the G-League Ignite squad.
This group of Oklahoma City prospects were outworking and outplaying the Celtics for three quarters and Boston risked another embarrassing loss. That was until Stevens summoned recently acquired Luke Kornet, a throw-in in the Daniel Theis trade to the Chicago Bulls.
Kornet could be seen splashing 3-pointers in his Celtics warmups prior to the game and at halftime, but it was highly unlikely he would get a chance in a real game. Kornet showed his worth to his new teammates quickly in the final quarter.
His consecutive 3-pointers gave the Celtics their first lead and they would hold on to top the valiant Thunder, 111-94, at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Stevens said before Friday’s game at Milwaukee that Kornet wouldn’t play unless it was a blowout, and he didn’t. But the Celtics needed energy Saturday. They were getting bested by a team filled with recent draft picks and castoffs from other clubs.
They allowed a center named Moses Brown, in his 25th NBA game, to post 17 points and 19 rebounds — at halftime. That Wilt Chamberlain-like performance was indicative of the Celtics’ effort in the early going.
And while the Celtics played harder and better in the third quarter, they couldn’t make up ground, peppered with jumpers by recent second-round pick Theo Maledon.
Down 82-78 with 11:34 left, the Celtics went on stirring 19-0 run, ignited by consecutive 3-pointers from Kornet, who was left wide open off the pick-and-roll. He finished with 8 points and five rebounds in 13 minutes.
“It was a lot of fun,” Kornet said of his Celtics debut. “A great group of guys, really high-character and very skilled and it was great to help them get the win. It was a lot of fun and great to have a first game be like that. It’s a great group of dudes and great when they can be happy for you . . . It’s awesome to be here.”
Jayson Tatum led Boston with 27 points but it required 27 shots. Jaylen Brown added 25 on 9-for-23 shooting. Robert Williams collected 14 rebounds in his second consecutive start but it required Stevens digging deep into his bench to secure a second consecutive road win.
Observations from the game:
▪ Jaylen Brown got off to a difficult start, missing all five of his shots and four 3-pointers in the opening five minutes. He missed 10 of his 13 shots in the first half, including six 3-pointers. The Celtics made it a priority Friday to attack the basket against the Bucks but reverted back to their 3-point ways vs. the Thunder. They attempted 20 threes in the opening 24 minutes, making three.
▪ You figured the Celtics were going to struggle with at least one of the Thunder’s young and obscure players and they did. Moses Brown, playing in his 25th NBA game, looked like Wilt Chamberlain in the first half with 17 points and a mind-boggling 19 rebounds in 16 minutes. Brown cleaned up everything on the glass, getting more than half of the Thunder’s rebounds. Brown had as offensive rebounds as the Celtics team in the first half.
▪ With Tristan Thompson out and Daniel Theis gone, Tacko Fall became the primary backup center for the second consecutive game. He played five first-half minutes and scored a dunk with three rebounds. Moe Wagner also saw some time with Robert Williams on the floor.
▪ When the Celtics started out flat and lethargic in the opening period, Celtics coach Brad Stevens countered Oklahoma City’s kids with kids of his own. He inserted Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, Tacko Fall and Carsen Edwards into the lineup and the club made a surge. They cut a 12-point deficit to 4, thanks to a quarter-leading 6 points from Pritchard and a dunk from Fall.
“Several guys stepped up and did a lot of good things,” Stevens said. “The Carsen 3[-pointer] at the end of the third was a big 3 to cut it to 4, and that group that started the fourth was terrific.”
▪ The Thunder announced prior to the game that veteran center Al Horford would not play for the rest of the season as the team looked to trade him this summer. Oklahoma City has been in a youth movement since trading away Chris Paul to the Phoenix Suns last fall and Horford was going to take minutes away from players such as Brown. Horford will remain with the team and sat on the sidelines in street clothes.
▪ Semi Ojeleye was unavailable Saturday with a left side strained sustained Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks but he was able to workout on the floor prior to the game, taking jumpers, an indication the injury isn’t long term.