By Fred Jones, Joey Balzotti, Matt Szafran
To watch the Celtics on this west coast stretch is to never know what team you see. You could see the team that dismantled the Lakers in cold-blood, you could see the team who couldn’t compete with the lottery-level Suns, or something in between like what showed up against the Clippers. The game against Golden State last night displayed the C’s ability to hang with, and beat, any team in the league. A complete defeat of a lowly team like the Lakers is one thing, but to completely disparage the best team in the NBA on their own home court is another.
Perhaps no team, other than the Lakers or Celtics, has had a run on dominance quite like the one Golden State has in the past 3 years. There were times this year that it looked impossible for the team to lose a basketball game. Any team’s fan base would surely be overjoyed with a simple win over Golden State, much less the blowout season performance the Celtics gave.
Let’s start with the lowlights, of which there are very few. IT’s shooting efficiency looked questionable at 7/20, but picked up at just the right times. The lack of Durant certainly makes the win a little less meaningful, but still a win over Golden State is always something to celebrate. Very brief.
The highlights: The fourth quarter defense was wonderful. After the disrespectful celebration Steph Curry made to Jaylen after hitting the 3 over him to close the third quarter, he didn’t score again. The NBA’s highest powered offense by a hundred-point margin (over Houston) was held to a paltry 12 points in the final period. When this Celtics team plays lockdown defense, they are Finals-level scary. Isaiah Thomas had a quietly productive night. Perhaps the highlight was, after swiping the ball from a hapless Draymond Green and getting fouled on the break, hearing MVP chants inside the Oracle Arena at the free-throw line.
A high compliment, for sure, from a city whose starting lineup has 4 MVP awards in the past 6 years. Kelly Olynyk’s career night, with a 17/5/5 line in 26 minutes with a shocking +29, included a slam which catalyzed the 15-0 run which put the nail in the coffin. Boston’s tenacious, highly aggressive play utilized a roster which is much deeper than Golden State’s, and by the 4th quarter it was pretty clear that the Warriors were dead tired. Jaylen not engaging Curry after the disrespect at the end of the third shows his growing maturity, on and off the court, something the Celtics will come to value when he develops into a franchise player down the road.
The thing about playing an opponent as elite as Golden State is that each little success brings just a little more swagger, and by the end of the night this Celtics team looked confident enough to beat anyone in the league. The grit the C’s showed is the kind they need if they want to make a deep playoff run, and exactly what the doctor ordered in a game where they risked falling out of the #2 spot in the East.