OKLAHOMA CITY — This time, Kemba Walker hit the shots, rather than Chris Paul.
Also, an old issue returned. The Thunder hadn’t played a decidedly lackluster third quarter in some time, but this day they did.
Fueled by a plus-10 rebounding margin in the frame, Boston outscored Oklahoma City by nine points, 10 if you count the free throw Danilo Gallinari hit because Marcus Smart got himself a technical foul on the way to the halftime locker room.
Still, the Celtics led the Thunder by nine points with 100 seconds remaining and somehow the Thunder had the ball with a chance to tie with almost 12 seconds remaining.
Boston beat Oklahoma City 112-111 Sunday afternoon and it wasn’t clear if the single-point margin was a tribute to the home team’s peskiness or, given all the shots at the rim that didn’t go down, confirmation it should have won.
Thunder reserve guard Dennis Schroder sounded downright wistful.
“We missed a couple layups, turned the ball over and it started with me,” he said. “Chris, Shai, Steve-O, everybody, can’t blame no one but we were still right there.”
They were still right there.
“We lost by one point and, I mean, it feels bad,” Schroder said. “but it’s still good to see that we just lost by one point.”
Paul hit an uncontested layup with 16.8 seconds remaining, cutting Oklahoma City’s deficit to 111-108, giving Boston the chance to dribble out the game or seal it at the free-throw line.
Instead, Gordon Hayward took the ball to the basket, a shot that appeared uncontested, too, until Schroder — six inches shorter than Hayward — blocked it from behind and Steven Adams grabbed it with 11.8 seconds remaining.
A chance to tie, OKC never got a shot off. Smart — a great defender at Oklahoma State, too — picked Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s pocket instead.
“Shai kind of left the ball out in front,” Smart said. “I was close enough and I did what I do and came up with the steal … I just felt like I needed to make a play.”
It was that close.
“I was just trying to make a play and he made a better play,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari both finished with 24 points for Oklahoma City. Paul finished with 22, including his only 3-pointer in five attempts, the one that beat the buzzer and forged the final score.
Yet, it was Walker who hit the game's two biggest shots, a 3-pointer with 2:40 remaining that put the Celtics up 106-99 and another one 29 seconds later that made it 109-101.
The first one, Paul answered with a short floater. The second, Paul tried to answer with a shorter floater, but missed. The Thunder’s next trip, after Jason Tatum made 1 of 2 free throws, Paul tried to answer with a 3 and missed.
They were the shots he’d been hitting all season in have-to-have-them moments, yet Sunday they didn’t fall.
Walker finished with 27 points, getting much of it on 11 of 13 foul shooting. Tatum added 26 on 10 of 19 shooting and 4 of 7 3-point shooting, including 12 in the third quarter.
“We definitely competed, but to start that third quarter, we had a big letdown, especially defensively,” Paul said. “I kind of let [Tatum] get going. And we just didn’t close the game out well.”
Boston shot 45.2 percent (28 of 84), 16 of 36 from 3-point range and 20 of 27 from the free-throw line.
Oklahoma City shot 45.3 percent (39 of 86), 11 of 27 from 3-point range and 22 of 29 from the free-throw line.
“We shot a good percentage … but I thought we had a lot of opportunities around the basket that we kind of came up empty,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “We weren’t able to finish well enough in some crucial situations.”
Can’t win them all.