The Thunder were coming off a 110-91 blowout at the Milwaukee Bucks, a competitive team but one that doesn't stand to finish as high in the East as the Celtics do. Two possessions later, Irving buried a 3-pointer and got fouled by Russell Westbrook.
Boston leads the league in points allowed at 93.8, is among the league leaders in opposing field goal percentage (43.1) and opposing 3-point percentage (32.1).
And Steven Adams did this to Baynes. In his 11th season, the only thing that Horford wants this season is a championship, and he has shown that he and Kyrie can deliver when their team is put in a bad position.
"It feels good, understanding what we were battling, the type of first half we put out there", Irving said. The Celtics arrived in Oklahoma City on a six-game winning streak. The need to slow Irving only intensifies Orlando's tricky situation at point guard.
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Indeed, Oklahoma City's defense gave Boston major fits in the first half as they flew around to loose balls, contested shots at the rim and on the perimeter. "The Celtics kept fighting".
The Thunder began to pull away near the end of the half, however, as they took a 55-37 lead into the break.
Irving's struggles were surprising when you consider how well he has played against the Thunder in the past, especially when it came to 3-point shooting. "I thought we played an incredible first half..." He and Horford, who splashed shot after shot, combined for 26 fourth-quarter points during a period when the Thunder, alone, scored 23. He's essentially shooting 50 percent from beyond the 3-point arc since the end of the 2016-17 season, through the playoffs and into the new season. The Celtics' defense clamped down during the third stanza, as Oklahoma City struggled to get quality looks at the hoop. Irving paced the Celtics with 25 points, his drive and scoop layup with 14.6 seconds left a microcosm of the Thunder's drastic change from halfcourt terrors for two quarters to stretched and broken by the Celtics' offense after halftime.
Al Horford was similarly clutch and dropped 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter as he shot 8-of-10 from the field, including 4-of-4 from three. Three of those treys came in the final frame, and he never hesitated with clean looks as the Thunder did everything to corral Irving. Tip-off from Amway Center is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET.
The Celtics' win helped them maintain a one-game lead over the Pistons and Magic in the Eastern Conference.