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Thunderous Oklahoma City Thunder resist Boston Celtics

OKLAHOMA CITY — Incorporate another pretender to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s collection of influential recent victories.

Holding off a late comeback bid, the Thunder triumphed 127-123 against the Celtics, who boast the NBA’s finest record.

Wrapping up eight wins in their last nine games, Oklahoma City now holds the second spot in the Western Conference at 23-9. Throughout this period, they have secured victories against top-tier opponents, including the leading teams from both conferences (the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Celtics) as well as the reigning champion Denver Nuggets, whom Oklahoma City defeated twice on the road.

“That’s a talented young team, and I don’t believe this was some fluke game for them,” mentioned Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis after Boston’s six-game winning streak came to an end despite his impressive 34-point, 10-rebound performance. “They’ve been playing really well. They’re at the top of the West, no? So a really good team to go up against and a really good experience for us.”

The Thunder’s sequence of five consecutive wins includes a 23-point home blowout of the Timberwolves and a 26-point road rout of the Nuggets. Once again, Oklahoma City appeared to be on the brink of another one-sided victory over the Celtics, taking an 18-point lead with 8:25 left in the fourth quarter.

Consisting of the second-youngest roster in the NBA, Oklahoma City is building an argument to be recognized as a contender, following a 14-win improvement last season at 40-42. The Thunder currently possess the league’s fourth-best record, rank third in net rating (plus-8.5), fourth in defensive rating (110.7) and fifth in offensive rating (119.2).

Nonetheless, the Thunder have no desire to engage in discussions regarding their standing as contenders.

“It indicates that we’re truly playing together and we’re prioritizing winning over anything else,” explained Rookie of the Year front-runner Chet Holmgren regarding the Thunder’s impressive run after his 14-point, 7-assist, 4-block contribution on Tuesday. “But as far as long-term prospects, it doesn’t really prove anything, I suppose, or it doesn’t quite satisfy anybody.

“We know we have a long way to go. We’re 32 games into the season, so we still have 50 games left. We have a lot of lessons to learn, a lot of lessons we’ve already learned from that we’ve got to kind of keep in the back of our mind.”

Oklahoma City superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the league’s third-leading scorer, delivered another remarkable performance with 36 points on 14-of-22 shooting. However, his only points in the fourth quarter came from a few free throws as the Celtics gradually narrowed the lead, making it a one-possession game in the final minute.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s most significant contributions in the closing minutes were assisting center Holmgren for a 3-pointer with 2:06 left and setting a screen to free forward Jalen Williams for a driving floater with 26 seconds remaining.

“He’s learned how to impact the game in other ways and that’s why he’s a really good player,” remarked Thunder coach Mark Daigneault regarding Gilgeous-Alexander, who also registered six rebounds and seven assists. “He’s not just a hired-gun scorer.”

Describing the last few minutes of the game as “sloppy” for the Thunder, Daigneault’s sentiment was echoed by several Oklahoma City players. They also expressed their belief that having to battle down the stretch to secure the win over the Celtics provided some of the lessons Holmgren referenced.

“I think we all stay in the moment, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to improve,” asserted Gilgeous-Alexander. “We just stay in the moment, attack the day, attack the program in front of us. Then we all have the right intentions and want to win at the end of the day.”

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