The NBA postseason is a chess match. Good teams know each other inside out and find a way to attack the weakness within an opponent over and over until something changes, whether it be strategy or personnel. Brad Stevens has had great success on this front throughout his career when he has a team buying into his direction and scheme from top to bottom (i.e. not last season) and it’s been a crucial factor in the C’s surprise 37-15 start to the season.
While Sunday’s Thunder-Celtics matchup was not a playoff matchup on paper, it was about as close as you were going to get in the regular season. Both teams were at full strength (minus Rob Williams) among their core players and everyone had been playing terrific basketball for the last few weeks. The Celtics came in with six straight wins and the Thunder had four straight. Both teams had won nine out of 10. Each team came in rested as well (no back-to-backs lately).
Sure enough, the strong play continued in the head-to-head battle for much of the night it was a back and forth affair for three quarters with both teams trading punches, leading to a tie game entering the fourth quarter.
For most teams in Oklahoma City, a tie game with 12 minutes to go has been bad news. The Thunder have been the best fourth-quarter team in the league (+9.9 net rating) thanks to the NBA’s best defense in the fourth quarter (100.1 points allowed per 100 possessions).
A healthy Celtics lineup was not fazed by this situation though, scoring 28 points and leading by as many as nine points late in the fourth quarter on their way to holding on for a 112-111 win. Late mistakes on offense made the final score much closer than it should have been as the visitors had this thing pretty much wrapped up (or should have) after building a nine-point lead (110-101) with just under two minutes remaining.
The creation of that advantage came largely due to a tactic that Stevens primarily saved for the fourth quarter. He saw the weakness in the