Programming note: The Warriors' 2015 win over the Boston Celtics will re-air on Saturday, April 4 at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.
With Klay Thompson sidelined by a sprained right ankle and Harrison Barnes out with a sprained left ankle, the Warriors went limping into Boston with a perfect record but light on manpower and heavy on fatigue.
It was enough to give the Celtics, who had won four of their previous five games, reason for optimism on the morning of the game.
“We’re just playing good basketball right now,” Celtics forward Jae Crowder told reporters after shootaround. “I’m excited to keep it going for ourselves and our team. Like Brad [Stevens] said today, we’re just going to focus on ourselves. It comes down to us playing hard and protecting our homecourt.”
With the Celtics motivated to defend their homecourt against the defending champions and blemish their 23-0 mark, the Warriors -- playing under interim coach Luke Walton -- knew they’d have to offset those disadvantages with pride and pluck.
What they could not have known at tipoff on that December night is that these competing forces would produce perhaps the most riveting night of their 73-9 season.
A game compelling enough to be re-aired by NBC Sports Bay Area on Saturday afternoon at 4.
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The Warriors were proud of their perfection and determined to protect it. They were wading, however, into the deep end of treachery, playing the final two games of a seven-game, 14-day road trip on back-to-back nights. Rarely does the NBA inflict such cruelty upon its teams.
They prevailed. It took not one but two overtimes -- with 16 ties and 22 lead changes -- but they left Boston with a 124-119 victory and their 24-0 record still intact.
“Nothing was pretty about this game the whole time,” Stephen Curry told reporters at TD Garden. “We got stops and everybody contributed ... This is a huge win for us.”
Curry played 47 minutes and submitted a game-high 38 points, along with 11 rebounds and eight assists. He had eight turnovers and shot 9-of-27 from the field, including 6-of-13 from beyond the arc.
His teammates were splendid. Draymond Green totaled 24 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, five steals and five blocks over 50 minutes. Andre Iguodala had 13 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals over 44 minutes. Centers Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli produced 14 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks over a combined 51 minutes. Shaun Livingston came up with a crucial late-game block.
Still, it was a 58-minute marathon, with the Warriors outhustling the Celtics to record a 67-51 rebounding advantage and a 10-7 edge in steals.
“Now I can admit I’m tired,” Curry said.
The win was an important moment for those Warriors.
“We will definitely cherish this because it doesn’t happen often,” Bogut said. “The record, the history, the team -- it doesn’t happen often so we will cherish it.
“Who knows? Next year you could be on a different team and nobody’s talking about you.”
Bogut was indeed on another team the following season, part of the roster shakeup in the wake of acquiring coveted free agent Kevin Durant in July 2016
But the big man had a point. Savor these moments that take you to the loftiest of places, where no team has ever gone. Enjoy the ride because it won’t last.
The Warriors had been stacking wins, one after another, for more than five weeks. The schedule was bound to take a physical toll and the winning meant mounting mental pressure. Beating the Celtics put the Warriors nine wins from the NBA’s all-time longest streak of 33 set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
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It required a Curry triple to give the Warriors the lead late with 46 seconds left in regulation, followed by a crucial Iguodala 3-ball in the first OT and a critical bucket from Livingston in the second OT. Neither team could pull away.
The Warriors kept at it until they found a way to beat a very good team under adverse conditions. Not one of their other 72 victories surpassed this one for pure perseverance.