BOSTON — For those who did not see the Boston Celtics’ 109-106 win over Golden State four years ago on this day, you had every reason to believe it was some kind of April Fools' Day prank.
The Celtics were coming off a seven-point loss at Portland the night before, a game in which Boston led with a minute to play only for the Blazers to close out the game with an 8-0 run.
And Golden State?
The defending NBA champions came in the more well-rested club with the goal being to extend their dominance at Oracle Arena (they had won an NBA-record 54 straight at home), against a Celtics team that on paper at least would not be at full strength.
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“I just remember we said we were going to come out and play,” former Celtic Jared Sullinger, a key member in Boston’s upset win, told NBC Sports Boston in a phone interview this week. “The one thing about that team that we had was ... I felt the higher the stakes, the better we played.”
And the stakes on this night, for a regular-season game, could not have been much higher.
“We were treating it like a must-win, knowing everything that was at stake for the Warriors,” ex-Celtic Isaiah Thomas told NBC Sports Boston. “That year … they were unstoppable. We knew how hard it was to win in Golden State because of how great their fan base is. Not only that, how great a team they were. We went in like it was a must-win.”
Boston was a squad on the rise, a roster full of overlooked and underappreciated talent.
On the road.
That Celtics team had learned early on how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Sullinger, who had a double-double that game with 20 points and 12 rebounds, admitted playing with a ginormous chip on their collective shoulders was instrumental in them pulling off one of the greatest regular season upsets by any team that season.
“Everybody showed up and did the game plan like we were supposed to,” Sullinger said. “And we were able to break their 54-game home winning streak.”
The victory itself was unexpected.
The fact that Boston’s best scorer, Thomas, had a scoreless first half made the victory all that more shocking.
Thomas, who would finish fifth in the league MVP voting the following year, was very much a focal point of the Warriors’ attention.
One of Thomas’ most vivid memories from that game was the amount of attention he got from Golden State’s defense whenever he touched the ball in the first half.
“That was my job; first and foremost to score the ball. I just wasn’t able to score the ball at the level that I was used to in the first half, so my teammates picked me up,” Thomas said.
And he did his part in dishing out five assists in the first half with zero turnovers.
“My job was to get them involved and make the right play,” Thomas said. “The right play was to find the open teammate and I did that.”
Sullinger added, “What Isaiah did, which was great, he moved the ball. He didn’t force a lot of shots. He realized his time would come. As me, Evan Turner and Avery Bradley were hitting shots, it loosened the defense and allowed IT to get into the lane to be able to do what he normally does.”
In addition to Sullinger’s 20-point, 12-rebound performance, Boston also got major contributions that game from Turner (21 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Bradley (15 points, four assists and exceptional defense on Stephen Curry).
But as the game heated up, so did Thomas’ scoring.
He would finish the game with 22 points, 18 of which came in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Curry started to get into a nice offensive groove in the second half as well, after a horrific first half in which he turned the ball over seven times.
He would lead all scorers with 29 points, although it was the potential game-tying 3-pointer that he missed in the closing seconds of play — one of the best looks he had at the rim all night — that most remember from that game.
Thomas acknowledged he thought Curry’s last-second shot was going to go down.
“Obviously when Steph Curry gets a shot, nine times out of ten you think it’s going in just because of how good a shooter he was,” Thomas said. “We were lucky that shot didn’t go in and we were able to win that game.”
Curry told reporters afterwards, “It was kind of fun. Every play meant something.”
And for the Celtics, that game was not just another regular season road win, either.
“For sure,” Sullinger said. “When you break someone’s record like that, the first to win there in I don’t know how long, that was huge. Especially for a team full of underdogs, a team full of young guys trying to prove themselves. That was a big-time confidence booster for the whole team, including the coaching staff.”
The loss to Boston was a minor setback that season for Golden State, which would finish the regular season with an NBA-record 73 wins. However, that would be the highlight of their season which ended with them losing to the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
As for the Celtics, they would finish fifth in the East before losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs.
But the win put the rest of the league on notice that the Celtics could do more than just compete with the best — they could actually beat them, on their own floor.
“That was a huge win, not just for us, but for the NBA, to stop them on their home court knowing they had that unbelievable winning streak,” Thomas said. “They were such a great team that year. That gave us momentum going into the end of the year and we used that."
Thomas added, “That was a statement win, that we’re good enough and we’re here.”