NBA highlights on February 3: Kyrie Irving outperforms Russell Westbrook
Li Xiang

The NBA arranged only three games on Sunday due to Super Bowl LIII. One of them was an Eastern vs. Western contest in which the Boston Celtics defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder at the TD Garden 134-129.

‘Uncle Drew' leads Celtics to East No. 3

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics in the game they win against the Oklahoma City Thinder 134-129 on February 3. /VCG Photo

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics in the game they win against the Oklahoma City Thinder 134-129 on February 3. /VCG Photo

Kyrie Irving dropped Boston's top score of 30 points and 11 assists with a crazy field goal rate of 73.6 percent (14/19). Marcus Morris scored 19 points and seven rebounds, and he was followed by Marcus Smart with 18 points, seven assists and Al Horford's 17 points, nine assists.

Paul George again got OKC's best of 37 points but his FG rate barely reached 40 percent (11/27). Russell Westbrook continued to take a triple-double of 22 points, 12 rebounds and 16 assists. Steven Adams put down 16 points and nine rebounds while Dennis Schroder got 16 points from the bench.

Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots a three-pointer in the game agains the Celtics on February 3. /VCG Photo

Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots a three-pointer in the game agains the Celtics on February 3. /VCG Photo

The score 134-129 was higher than expected considering that the Celtics and the Thunder had  the fifth and seventh defense respectively in the league this season. Thanks to better ball movement (36 assists), Boston shot a higher FG rate of 59.34 percent and managed to score 58 points in the paint. By contrast, Oklahoma City sank 14 three-pointers with a 3-pt rate of 40 percent and led by 22 points in early offense (37-15).

The two teams tried to speed up the game from the start. OKC went very simple with their offense as their players usually took their shots after one or no passes, but in defense, the team somehow could not stay focused long enough and left open shots or easy baskets for the opponent after simple screen plays.

Steven Admas #12 of the Thunder and Al Horford of the Celtics in the game on February 3. /VCG Photo

Steven Admas #12 of the Thunder and Al Horford of the Celtics in the game on February 3. /VCG Photo

The Celtics were also playing fast but, in order not to leave too many offensive chances for the Thunder, they chose to focus on defense instead of competing for rebounds. However, Boston had no real big man to protect the rim and thus were in a disadvantageous position facing OKC and their athletic squad.

Oklahoma City in the second quarter grew cold for a while and, thanks to the increase of double teaming in defense, they left Boston more open shots and watched their opponent launch an 8-0 run in two minutes in which they expanded the lead to nine points. Though OKC managed to make three straight shots from the 3-pt line in the third quarter, their defense was never tight enough to cut the Celtics' FG rate down under 60 percent.

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Thunder shoots in the game against the Celtics on February 3. /VCG Photo

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Thunder shoots in the game against the Celtics on February 3. /VCG Photo

On the other side of the court, Boston's head coach Brad Stevens admitted that even though his players did well in the middle of each quarter, they always lost focus towards the end. As a result, they could not get a big enough lead over OKC to feel safe.

As the game entered the last three minutes, Irving stood out as Boston's leader. He first scored four points in a row to expand the lead by five (125-120) and then helped Jason Tatum score another two points with his 11th assist. After Westbrook narrowed the score difference to two points (125-127), Irving expanded it to four again with a floater. In the last 10 seconds, Irving forced Westbrook to commit a turnover with his defense, running the OKC's last hope of catching up.

Irving #11 of the Celtics shoots in the game against the Thunder on February 3. /VCG Photo

Irving #11 of the Celtics shoots in the game against the Thunder on February 3. /VCG Photo

After Sunday's game, Irving became the second player in Celtics history to score at least 25 points and 10 assists 10 times in one season. The last time Boston saw anyone do this was in the 1970-71 season and his name was John Havlicek. Meanwhile, thanks to the victory, the Celtics passed the Philadelphia 76ers to become third in the Eastern Conference.

OKC, by contrast, not only saw their seven straight wins come to an end, but also now feel the pressure of the teams behind who are catching up. Though they are still ranked No. 3 in the Western Conference, the Thunder only lead by six wins over the ninth placed Sacramento Kings. They will play against the Orlando Magic, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Houston Rockets the Portland Trail Blazers and the New Orleans Pelicans before the All-Star Game.

Other games on Sunday included: (away teams come first)

Memphis Grizzlies 96-84 New York Knicks

Los Angeles Clippers 103-121 Toronto Raptors