SAN FRANCISCO – The Boston Celtics’ run towards the playoffs last season had a number of moments that provided a nice jolt of confidence.
But there was no bigger lift emotionally than the 109-106 win at Golden State, a victory that not only snapped the Warriors’ NBA record 54-game home winning streak but also put the Celtics and their scrappy, fight-to-the-bitter-end brand of basketball on the national map.
Boston (40-24) will be looking for a repeat performance tonight when they return to Oracle Arena for the first time since the win. Since then, both the Warriors and Celtics have shown tremendous growth in their overall play and roster depth. The Celtics have added Al Horford who is questionable for tonight’s game due to a right elbow injury that has kept him out of Boston’s last two games. And the Warriors were able to convince Kevin Durant to bring his talents to the Bay Area, beating out a number of teams for his services – including the Celtics.
Durant suffered a Grade 2 MCL strain and a bone bruise earlier this month that’s expected to keep him out until at least the end of this month. With or without Durant, tonight’s game will be a tough for the Celtics who are facing a Golden State that has been the best team in the NBA this season – similar to where they were when Boston beat them last season.
And like Boston’s 109-106 win over the Warriors last season, the Celtics come into tonight’s game having lost their last two games. Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, who had 22 points and six assists in the victory over the Warriors last season, acknowledged it provided a much-needed boost of confidence for the Celtics who were just a few weeks away from playoffs.
“It’ll jump-start anybody’s confidence,” Thomas said following Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. “We ended their streak. It was one of the best games I’ve been a part of, regular season games. It’s gonna be the same way (tonight); we have to sustain their runs and contain those guys.”
Of course that’s a lot easier said than done, with our without Durant.
Golden State has been prolific at both ends of the floor this season. They average a league-best 117.5 points per game with an offensive rating of 113.6 which is also tops in the league. Golden State’s defensive rating is nothing to snooze on, either. The Warriors’ defensive rating is second-best in the NBA at 101.5. And while they are certainly praised for their 3-point shooting, Golden State also takes care of business on the glass with a defensive rebounding percentage of .505 which ranks 11th in the NBA.
Boston, usually among the NBA’s top defensive teams, has not been nearly as good at that end of the floor this season. They have made strides of late, with a defensive ranking of 104.7 which ranks eighth in the league in their last 15 games. That’s a noticeable improvement over their season numbers defensively which includes a defensive rating of 105.9 which ranks 16th in the NBA.
The Celtics tend to focus on their play and what they need to do in order to be successful, the kind of tunnel vision that’ll come in handy tonight against a Warriors team that stands out at both ends of the floor which only further pushes the narrative of just how dominant a team they are this season and the odds-on favorite to win it all this season.
No one disputes how good the Warriors are this season, or how daunting a challenge awaits the Celtics tonight. But as we have seen during Brad Stevens’ three-plus seasons as the Celtics head coach, the formula for avoiding a third straight loss is clear.
“If we don’t play well we get beat,” Stevens said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”