The Boston Celtics stormed back from a 17 point deficit on Thursday night against the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to pull off a 92-88 Win. It was the 14th straight Win for Boston and unquestionably the most impressive of the streak. There is a lot to talk about from last night, so let’s get into it.
The Celtics Defense was tops in the league coming into Thursday, and proved exactly why against the most prolific offense the NBA has ever seen. GS had been averaging 120 a game coming in, and had failed to score 100 only once (97 in a blowout win over Miami) so far this season. Boston on the other hand had been allowing a league best 94 points a game and had given up 100 points just twice during the 14 game stretch. Something had to give on Thursday night.
The Warriors came out firing in the first quarter, putting up 28 to open a comfortable 10 point lead. From there, the C’s defense imposed their will and took over the basketball game. With 19 points in the 2nd, followed by 21 in the third, and 20 in the 4th, the Warriors were held to 30 points below their season average. Before the game, Charles Barkley stated there was “no way the Celtics hold the Warriors to 94 points”. He was not wrong.
Steph Curry had what may be the worst night of his entire career, going 3-14 for 9 points. Klay Thompson was no better, chucking 11 threes and missing 8. This was not the result of just “off” shooting nights, but rather a great defensive performance by a great defensive team. From the jump, it was clear the refs were going to let them play a little bit, and the Celtics took advantage. They hounded Steph everywhere he went on the court. Whether it was Kyrie, Smart, Jaylen Brown, or Horford switching out on to him, Steph was harassed and frustrated all evening. What makes this defense so good, is the length of their rotation, which gives them the ability to switch and guard multiple positions. Whenever Curry came off a screen, he was picked up by a Celtic athletic enough to keep him in front. As for Klay, he has the prettiest jump shot in basketball. Last night, it didn’t look that way. All of his misses were contested and his shots were bothered. He was forced to fade and adjust causing brick after brick because Jaylen and Marcus Smart were in his grill all night. Klay is usually able to get open looks due to the ability of Curry and Durant to create and kick out to him. The Celtics defensive rotation was so sound, that every time Klay caught it, there was someone wearing Green in his chest. It is rare for Steph and Klay to go a combined 5 for 20 from deep, but it is also rare for them to have so few open looks in a ballgame.
In a game that featured 6 NBA All-Stars and another watching from behind the bench, it was Jaylen Brown who was the best player on the court. Playing just a day after learning about the death of his best friend, Jaylen put his emotion to work Thursday night, and dominated on both ends of the floor. Two plays that stand out on Defense are the rejection of a wide open Klay Thompson lay-in, and absolute bully-ball steal of Steph Curry which led to a break-away dunk the other way. Jaylen was all over the court during his 34 minutes of action. He bothered Steph when he switched on to him, was in Klay’s grill on multiple attempts, and was huge in keeping KD in check. In the third quarter, just when it looked like the Warriors were pulling away and had opened up a 17 point lead, it was the 20 year old who brought his team back. Jaylen went on an 8-0 run by himself, which included canning two huge threes to get the Garden jumping again. He finished the night grabbing 7 boards with 2 blocks and 2 steals to go along with his 22 points. It was an impressive performance that has Celtics fans even more excited about the future of this team than ever.
With Kyrie Irving not at his best, the Celtics relied on a total team effort to get it done last night. Stevens went 10 deep, a rotation that included 3 rookies and 2 2nd year players. These guys were not enamored with the star power of the Warriors, and contributed to a total team win. Al Horford was anything but Average Al in this one. He went 7 of 11 from the field for 18 points, grabbed 11 boards and was a +16 for the game. Flat out no chance this team competes in this one without him on the floor.
Despite an ‘0-fer’, Marcus Smart’s contributions should not go unnoticed. A lot of people I talk to during games are beyond frustrated with Marcus and his inability to shoot the ball combined with a refusal to pass up open looks. The thing is, when Marcus is in the ball-game, he has to shoot those shots. The beauty of Brad Steven’s offense is the crisp ball and player movement which generates open shots for everybody. When you are the guy who finds himself open, you have to be ready to pull the trigger. Sure, he is struggling now, but when he’s out there and open, he has to let it fly, or else the Offense doesn’t flow as well. As for the reason he IS out there, watch a Celtics game and count the number of “winning” plays he makes on the floor. Call them hustle plays, call them Tommy Points, call them what you want, but nobody makes more of them than Smart. His physicality and on ball defense is second to none in the entire league. He can cover Steph or he can switch on to Draymond. He is the first guy to hit the deck after a loose ball, and he absolutely flies in from the guard spot to clean up on the glass. Sure the shooting woes are frustrating and they were downright ugly last night, but the Celtics need this guy out there. It will be interesting to see what they do with his contract after this season, but I am a believer that he is a very important piece of this club moving forward.
Finally, I can’t write a Celtics blog without talking some more about Bradley Stevens. I know this is about as corny as sports quotes can get, but this is a team that takes on the personality of its Head Coach. Stevens is always the calmest, coolest, and most collected guy in any room that he walks into. Up 10 or down 20, his expressions and tone remain the same. When the Celtics were down 17 in the third quarter, there was absolutely zero panic on the floor. They knew there was time, and they knew they were capable of coming back. They had done it previously against OKC, again against Charlotte, and believed it could be done, even against Golden State. Watch the Warriors on league pass any night, and you see teams get down and out after big runs that lead to large deficits. Not this Celtics team, and that has everything to do with the dude in a suit with no tie on the sideline. He is the best coach in basketball and it may not even be an argument at this point anymore.
Thursday night was fun. I know it is early in the season, but it was a big test for the Boston Celtics and a test they passed with flying colors. There is a long way to go, but it is evident that this is a team that can compete with anybody. Forget about them fighting for a middle seed in the East without Hayward, the Celtics are the best team in the Conference. When asked about a potential meeting with the Celtics in the NBA finals after Thursday, Steph Curry said “Its looking very, very likely right now”. Hard to argue with that.