Ten reasons why Friday night's Celtics-Warriors game is a big deal

Ten reasons why Friday night's Celtics-Warriors game is a big deal

BOSTON -- When the Boston Celtics face the Golden State Warriors, it usually serves as one of those measuring stick-like games. 

It is again this season, but not for the usual reasons. 

Instead of the Celtics (9-1) looking forward to seeing how they stack up against one of the league’s best, it is the woeful playing Warriors (2-9) trying to get a feel for how they can match up with the best team record-wise in the NBA. 

Tonight’s matchup is very much a role reversal in every sense of the word, fueled in large part by injuries to key Golden State players (Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry) and a Boston squad that’s playing significantly better than anyone anticipated.

While it may not have the same luster to it that we’ve seen in past years, there’s still plenty of reasons - we’ll give you 10 right now - why this game is a big deal for both teams. 


Boston comes in favored to win, but even in Golden State’s best seasons, a victory over Boston was far from a given. In fact, the road team has come away with the win in seven of their last nine matchups.


The fourth-year wing is in a great groove now, impacting the game at both ends of the floor which is what both he and the Celtics envisioned for him to be doing more of this season. He is averaging a career-high 20.1 points on the season and has scored at least 20 points in each of Boston’s last three games - a first for him in his career. Continuing to impact the game both as a defender and top-shelf scorer will be imperative to his continued growth and the Celtics’ chances at extending its winning streak tonight. 


This will be the first time all season that the Celtics will enter a game with their top three centers - Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams III - all probable as far as availability. Each has contributed in some fashion to the team’s strong play this season. Having them all available provides Brad Stevens with the kind of lineup problem he has been longing to have all season. 


Good things tend to happen when Jayson Tatum is on the floor for Boston this season. In fact, he leads the NBA in plus-minus this season with +128. The others on his heels include LeBron James (+96) of the Los Angeles Lakers; Devin Booker (+92) of the Phoenix Suns; Pascal Siakam (+92) of the Toronto Raptors and Kelly Oubre (+89) of the Suns.


One of the keys to Boston doing such a good job at getting lots of shots off is that they don’t make a ton of miscues and mistakes on offense, which has resulted in them having one of the lowest turnover rates in the NBA. This season, Boston is averaging a league-low 11.5 turnovers per game. 


No, this is no play off of Marcus Smart’s name, although he is shooting the 3-point shot better than ever this season. Here’s the thing, Boston has a lot of players with the ability to get red-hot from 3-point range. But unlike last season when it seemed they were just jacking up 3’s all the time, there seems to be more thought taken into taking good ones rather than just the first time there’s enough space to launch one. And the result has been Boston connecting on 37.0 percent of its 3-pointers which ranks eighth in the NBA. 


The most noticeable difference with the Celtics now compared to past seasons has been the balance that exists in them driving the ball to the paint. Rather than relying on one or two players, this Celtics team has four or five players who consistently attack the rim. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a ton of shots in the paint. But the threat that they present with their dribble-drive game creates better shot opportunities for their perimeter players as well as those who are getting to the rim. 


Kemba Walker and the rest of Boston’s playmakers are doing a great job this season setting up defenses with the pick-and-roll, often keeping the ball with the result being good looks at the rim for themselves. This season, the Celtics are averaging a league-best 1.10 points per play (PPP) on Pick-and-Rolls with the Ball handler keeping it. And that has resulted in them averaging 28 points in such plays per game which ranks second in the NBA and tops in the Eastern Conference.


Boston’s rebounding, for the most part, has been solid this season. It has allowed them to get out in transition where they have been extremely effective. They come into tonight’s game averaging 1.19 PPP in transition which ranks fourth in the NBA. 


Boston has been an equal opportunity destroyer of teams when it comes to the fourth quarter of games. They come into tonight’s game with the top five players in offensive rating in the fourth quarter who have averaged at least six minutes in the fourth, a group led by Gordon Hayward (142.9) who will be out for around six weeks following surgery to repair a fractured bone in his left hand. The others in the top five are Jaylen Brown (138.5); Kemba Walker (134.9); Daniel Theis, (133.0) and Jayson Tatum (131.1).

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Next step for Celtics: More poise under pressure

Next step for Celtics: More poise under pressure

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics’ fourth-quarter execution the past two games can be summed up in one sequence.

After clawing their way back into Thursday night’s visit from the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston found itself down 3 with 25.7 seconds to go with the ball. But the Sixers applied full-court pressure and inbounder Jayson Tatum panicked a bit while waiting for Jaylen Brown to race back to receive the pass. Brown ultimately got tangled with Josh Richardson and fell to the floor as Tatum’s pass sailed wide and bounced out of bounds near the Sixers' bench.

Painful as it would have been, the Celtics could have burnt their final timeout. They could have simply handled Philadelphia’s pressure better and not fumbled the ball — and the game — away.

Ultimately, great teams find a way to win this sort of game. Or the one 24 hours earlier when Boston kicked away a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in Indiana.

Save the excuses about available bodies and bad calls and whatever else you want to blame. The Celtics, seemingly unflappable in the face of in-game adversity early in the year, wilted twice against primary Eastern Conference rivals the past 48 hours.

Because of that, Boston arrives at a very random five-day December break in its schedule at a respectable 17-7 overall, but with a bit of a sour taste from dropping two games against potential East playoff foes. The Celtics have slipped to fourth in the conference with Philadelphia executing a leapfrog after Thursday’s 115-109 triumph at TD Garden.

“We just have to learn how to win,” said Kemba Walker, who scored a team-high 29 points against Philadelphia but got limited to 8 points with only one field goal after the intermission. All this one day after Boston wasted a 44-point outburst when Indiana rallied for a 122-117 victory.

"We have a lot of lapses during these games. We have stretches where we’re playing super well. And then we have lapses,” said Walker. “We just have times where we’re just — it’s bad. It just looks really bad. So we just have to tone that down a little bit, just try our best to put a 48-minute games together. And that’s going to take everybody.”

Maybe it’s greedy to suggest the Celtics should win these sort of games. After an opening-night loss in Philadelphia, Boston ripped off 10 straight wins and had won six of seven entering this week’s back-to-back. These young Celtics had been so cool under pressure that it’s been a bit jarring to see them get sloppy and shoot themselves in the foot with mental miscues.

"I think, going in, when you look at the schedule you know this is going to be a tough one but, once you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re not really feeling those effects,” said Gordon Hayward, who departed Wednesday’s game in Indiana after getting hit in the nose but didn’t look overly hindered against Philadelphia.

"I think two emotional losses for us. Certainly, it’s tough in games that go down to the wire. I felt like we had chances in both. But it is what it is. It’s a long season, it’s part of it. We’ve got to try to learn from it and move on but we can’t blame it on legs. We’re professional athletes. We should be able to handle that.”

Yes, Marcus Smart would help in these situations. But the Pacers were playing without Victor Oladipo, and the Sixers didn’t have Al Horford, who got a standing ovation when shown on the Philadelphia bench at the start of the second quarter.

The Celtics, if they want to be honest-to-goodness contenders, need to win these sort of games. It was one thing to find a silver lining when they took the Clippers to overtime last month on the road but the last two games have lacked the defensive focus displayed during much of Boston’s early-season success.

To be sure, there are positives to pluck from these two games. Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter held up surprisingly well while jousting with Joel Embiid. Philadelphia’s All-Star big man finished with 38 points on 12-of-21 shooting with 13 rebounds and 6 assists. He did a nice job dominating in 1-on-1 matchups and showcased his passing skills while generating open looks for teammates when Boston sent multiple bodies at him.

Kanter turned in his best game of the year and Theis played well for much of the night. The duo combined for 36 points and14 rebounds, essentially negating Embiid’s output (though his impact went far beyond those two stat categories).

The next step for these Celtics is consistently staying poised in high-pressure moments. Players have to avoid careless turnovers, they have to be willing to work for good looks on the offensive end, and they can’t lose focus on the defensive side.

While it’s obvious the Celtics never consider themselves out of a game, they’ve got to be better when things get tense.

"One thing I love about us is that we’re not quitting. We’re still fighting through adversity,” said Walker. "When things are getting rough we’re not putting our heads down, man. We’re competing at a very high level. So it can only go up from here.”

Unfortunately for Stevens, it’s plays like the inbounds turnover that will gnaw at him until the Celtics get back on the practice court next week. Boston doesn’t play another game until Wednesday night in Dallas.

That’s a lot of time to ponder how Thursday’s game got away. And Wednesday’s before it.

“We didn’t get the ball [inbounds],” Stevens said after Thursday’s loss. "I think that’s obviously -- you gotta be able to do those things in the biggest moments and we didn’t get that done.”

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Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Joel Embiid pays Celtics fans the ultimate compliment ... but still loves silencing them

Joel Embiid pays Celtics fans the ultimate compliment ... but still loves silencing them

BOSTON -- Few professional athletes embrace hate like Joel Embiid.

The Philadelphia 76ers big man channeled recent criticism from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal into a tour de force performance at TD Garden on Thursday night, tallying a season-high 38 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to hand the Boston Celtics their first home loss, 115-109.

Embiid also fed off the Garden crowd, which booed the big man heartily throughout the night.

The 25-year-old tipped his cap to the Boston faithful after the game, admitting the loudest crowd he's ever dealt with in an NBA game was the Garden during a second-round playoff game in 2018.

"They've got great fans. They're loud," Embiid said. "The loudest (game) I've ever been a part of was actually here in Game 2, two years ago in the playoffs.

"We were up by 20 and they made their run. It was loud and my ears were popping. That's the loudest (it's) ever been (for me) in an arena."

The Celtics stormed back to win that game 108-103, taking a 2-0 series lead over Philly en route to a five-game series win.

A year and a half later, Boston wasn't so lucky.

Embiid had been in a bit of funk over his last few games but seemed revitalized by the hostile Garden environment, relishing in making big plays like this dagger 3-pointer in the fourth quarter:

"They talk a lot of trash, and I like that," Embiid said. "It gets me going. I had that fun mentality about me tonight. Just reacting to them and playing off it."

Boston and Philly will meet twice more this season, with the Sixers coming to the Garden again on Feb. 1. Celtics fans can boo Embiid all they want, but they should be warned that it may not have the desired effect.

"Joel really set the tone of how we were going to play today," Sixers teammate Tobias Harris added. "His energy, his interactions at timeouts and dead balls: He was the man today."

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.