OAKLAND, Calif. – When you’ve been as successful as the Golden State Warriors have been in recent years, it’s damn near impossible to look ahead and circle any one particular regular season game as being any more special than another.
But the one thing you can count on tonight, is that the Celtics will get the best of the Golden State Warriors who are looking to avoid Boston sweeping the regular season series for the first time since 2012.
“We feel they’re just as good as any team in the league,” said Warriors All-Star Kevin Durant. “The way they play, the way they pass, the way they move on offense … their defensive intensity has been top level for the whole season. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Warriors (39-10) come into the game with the best record in the NBA.
They had four players – Stephen Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – chosen to play in next month’s NBA All-Star game, making them the first team in NBA history to have four players chosen for the all-star game in back-to-back seasons.
Figuring out how to limit them is a daunting task, almost to the point where it’s laughable to think it can be done with any consistency.
And for Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, watching them play is both exciting and infuriating at times because of how talented they are and how much far superior their top four or so players are in comparison with the top four players on most teams.
"They’re a joke,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “I don’t even know what to say. It’s so fun to watch.”
Fun for fans, absolutely.
But for the guys who have to go out there and defend the Warriors?
Not so much.
“It’s just … basically, they got four All-Stars, the best 3-point shooters in the league,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris. “Offensively, the major key, if we can get some stops. It’s going to be really tough to out-score those guys. I think the game comes down to getting stops. They’re gonna make shots; everybody does. Just coming out and getting stops and getting great shots at the other end.”
And maybe doing something we seldom see Boston do this season – get to the free throw line.
When Boston rallied from 17 points down to beat Golden State 92-88 on Nov. 16, a key to the Celtics’ comeback win was that they were 33-for-38 from the free throw line.
“We put them on the foul line a lot last game,” Durant said. “We fouled them. We have to play without fouling. We want to be aggressive. But we want to make sure we’re not putting (the Celtics) in the bonus early. We have to lock in without fouling.”
The Celtics certainly did that in their last meeting, limiting the Warriors to a then-season low 88 points in what has been one of Boston's marquee wins this season.
Golden State is still arguably the best team in the NBA, but Boston’s victory in November showed that the Warriors, while extremely talented, are mortal and can suffer setbacks.
But that doesn’t take away from the elite status Stevens sees the Warriors having earned with their play and consistency to perform at the highest of levels.
“It’s a special, special group that’s been assembled,” Stevens said. “They can go out on runs that are an absolute killer if you’re competing against them, and an absolute blast if you love good basketball. When you put all that talent together and they have such a desire to play together and enjoy playing together the way they do, that’s what makes it fun to watch.”