Celtics-Warriors preview: Celts face a big test at just the right time

Celtics-Warriors preview: Celts face a big test at just the right time

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.”

Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

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Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

As expected, Kyrie Irving’s first regular season with the Boston Celtics is over following a procedure on his left knee Saturday that team officials described as being "minimally invasive," that will keep him sidelined until the playoffs.

Not having Irving for the final 10 games of the regular season is certainly disappointing for Boston, but it won’t have the kind of devastating impact one might expect a team to have to endure when the leading scorer is out for a significant chunk of time.

Friday’s 105-100 win over Portland was Boston’s fifth straight game without Irving, and 12th this season.


There’s no question Boston is a better team when he is in the lineup.

But when he’s not, the Celtics have continued to find ways to win games which is evident in their 8-4 record when Irving has not played.

Victories over teams like the Blazers only validates the quality depth that the Celtics players speak of when they talk about their team. 

“We know what we have,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “It is encouraging for our group. And for us it’s to make sure we keep working and understand when we commit on the defensive end, we’re a tough team to beat.”

But Horford acknowledges the challenge to be successful becomes infinity greater when key players such as Irving are out.

“We can’t dwell on the guys who are not here, the guys who are injured,” Horford said. “It’s tough, but it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and guys have really taken advantage of that opportunity. We’re trying to move forward. It’s hard but we don’t have an option.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 105-100 win at Portland on Friday night.


The ability to not just run a team but do so in an effective, steady manner is what separated Shane Larkin from most of the guys who saw action last night. He made timely shots, kept the ball moving (he had seven assists and just one turnover) while playing at a really good tempo which was apparent as he finished with a pace of 95.97 which was tops among all Celtics players.


Greg Monroe could not have picked a better time to play his best basketball of the season. Against the Blazers, he came off the bench and tallied a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. The 10 boards were particularly impressive with a team-best rebounding percentage of .303 and team-best usage percentage of .316 which speaks to how Boston made a point of going to Monroe early and often when he was on the floor.


It was another big-time scoring night for Marcus Morris who led all scorers with 30 points, easily becoming a fixture as Boston’s go-to guy now that Kyrie Irving (left knee) will miss the rest of the regular season. And like Irving, Morris is doing it in an extremely efficient manner. Against the Blazers, the 6-foot-8 forward was 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) shooting from the field with an effective field goal percentage eFG% of .885.


For most of Friday’s game, Jayson Tatum was not having a good game offensively with three points through three quarters of play. But Tatum, one of the NBA’s better fourth quarter players, was once again saving his best for last. He would go on to lead the Celtics with 10 points in the fourth quarter, which was a huge factor in Boston’s comeback victory.


The Celtics’ second unit looks a little different, but the production and overall impact remains strong as ever. Boston’s backups outscored their Portland brethren 26-10. But more than the points, Boston’s backups individually came up with big plays. Greg Monroe’s 10-point, 10-rebound performance stood out for obvious reasons. But the floor leadership of Shane Larkin and timely contributions from Guerschon Yabusele was also important in the win.


Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.