It may be one of 82 games on the regular season calendar, but even Al Horford was willing to admit that Saturday’s contest against the Warriors has an asterisk next to it.
“I mean it’s a regular-season game, but at the same time I do think it’s different,” he said. “It’s just everything that they’ve done and how good of a team they are, it’s going to be a fun challenge for us.”
Amid an opening 50 games full of turmoil, team meetings, lineup changes and inconsistency, the timing could not be much better for the Celtics to test themselves against the league’s best. The Celtics have readied themselves for the occasion over the past week, giving Horford and Kyrie Irving a strategic night off on Wednesday to ensure they will be at full strength coming off four full days of rest.
The long list of excuses based on injuries and meshing new pieces together is gone as well now for this group. Everyone is healthy and the roles have been clearly defined for a couple months now after Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris were inserted into the starting five. The Celtics have found a rhythm, at least at home, over the past month, winning ten straight games at the TD Garden including victories over Toronto, Indiana and Philadelphia.
With two off-days heading into the contest, the spot is perfect for Boston to match up against a team playing the best basketball the NBA has seen all season. Golden State is currently demolishing opponents in the midst of their nine-game winning streak (17 points margin of victory average) and doing that while seamlessly adding DeMarcus Cousins to the lineup has everyone around the league in awe of what they are achieving.
“They look like they’re playing at an elite level right now,” Brad Stevens said. “I think any time you add a guy like that, and he’s on a minutes restriction still, or at least he’s playing limited minutes, it just looks like everybody’s got a little more bounce in their step, and, they’re tough. I don’t know that I’ve seen them play better during the regular season stretch since maybe the year they won 73.”
Saturday’s battle will probably be a little different than past showdowns between the two squads and could very well go a long way into establishing just what type of identity that this Celtics roster can lean on in the long haul.