OAKLAND -- The NBA playoffs don’t start for another three months, but even the defending champions couldn’t help but feel like Saturday’s national showcase was an early taste of what’s to come in May and June.
“Yeah, it was playoff intensity, back and forth,” Steph Curry said after the Warriors held off the Celtics for a 109-105 win. “It was a fun game, it was intense, it was hard fought through all 48 minutes, so that is kind of what you expect in the playoffs for sure.”
“It was a great basketball game,” Steve Kerr added. "It just felt like a playoff game. High-level stuff, great defense, both teams playing incredibly hard and smart — not a lot of turnovers. Some tremendous individual performances. The guard play tonight was just amazing back and forth.”
Curry delivered his best game of the year, scoring a season-high 49 points (16-of-24 FG, 8-of-13 3pt) for a well-rested Warriors squad that had all of its horses ready to go. The Celtics were down an All-Star and a key rotation player and still managed to hang toe-to-toe with the league’s best for the better part of 48 minutes. Kyrie Irving (37 points) almost managed to steal the game for the visitors, but his supporting cast didn’t quite do enough to keep up with Curry and company.
Brad Stevens isn’t one for moral victories but he couldn’t help but be encouraged by his team’s performance after an ugly past couple of weeks.
“It was a good game,” Stevens declared. “They made great plays down the stretch. I thought we made a lot of plays. Obviously shot the heck out of it early, but they’re a heck of a team.”
The Celtics, on the other hand, are still trying to figure out who they are 50 games into the season with a new cast of characters. However, their success against the elite teams across the NBA cannot be ignored at this point. They’ve beaten the top nine teams in the league at least once and the losses in those matchups have all come by five points or less on the road (Cleveland, San Antonio, Golden State).
“I mean they are a great team,” Curry said. “You have to play a solid game to beat them, kind of like Houston last week, Boston tonight, and not overlooking any team but we’ve got OKC coming up – those type of games where you know you can’t just show up and win. That’s great preparation for us as we try to build those habits and in a playoff kind of mentality towards the end of the season. Coach talked about it before the game that this is a big game because, you know, you show up and play some mediocre game you’re going to get exposed, you’re going to get beat, so you take that challenge on.”
The expectation for this season once Gordon Hayward went down was that a trip to the NBA Finals would have to wait. As we passed the halfway mark of the season and the Celtics remain competitive against the league’s best despite throwing out guys like Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin in games like this, it’s fair to wonder what this group could be capable of if Stevens had a bit more to work with.
With the trade deadline just 10 days away, it’s time for Danny Ainge to take some action.