I can’t think of a more fitting way for the Celtics to earn their playoff spot than having to go through the league’s best young talent before facing off against their most veteran rival.
The team’s effort against the Warriors was a nationally televised showcase of how they win games. The Celtics have mastered the art of creating offense through their defense, by leaping into passing lanes and capitalizing on turnovers to generate quick, clean transition baskets. When in dire need of points without the luxury of easy transition offense, Brad Stevens conjures up something like this:
Breaking the Warrior’s 54 game home win streak also served as a great explanation as to why Celtics fans are constantly raving about a team that has spent almost the entire season sitting in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings. The optimism lies in the team itself, not its record. The swagger and resilience they display in games like this are why Celtics fans think this roster has an edge over the uncomfortably close competition in the East. This game is an example of what they do, not an exception.
Isaiah Thomas going punch-for-punch with one of the league’s best in Stephen Curry harkens back to the Celtics of the mid-2000s, where Paul Pierce would take over games by himself, and in true Pierce-era fashion, Isaiah Thomas continues to be excluded from the conversation of the league’s most elite players. In this case, Isaiah’s reputation is hindered more by his height than by his team’s standing, but I think the debate as to whether or not the Celtics have a true star on their team is no longer a debate, but a myth.
In case you missed it, Steph Curry’s 3rd quarter onslaught is what his opponent’s nightmares are made of. Take a look:
It’s that kind of deadeye shooting from him and Thompson that breaks the will of their visitors, and led them to 54 consecutive home wins.
Isaiah’s response, in my opinion, proves his elite status as a player:
It goes without saying that Celtics fans have been pleasantly surprised by how much leadership Thomas has brought to the team, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a player on the roster who can go head-to-head with top tier scorers like Curry.
The attitudes and other intangibles that players like Thomas and teammates Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder bring to the team are so contagious that those three players successfully turned a tanking culture into a winning culture over the past season and a half.
However, no matter how much grit, resilience, and hustle a group of players can bring, the bottom line is that somebody needs to get buckets. Or if you’re Isaiah Thomas, you need shoes that have some buckets in ‘em.
At any rate, the win in Golden State is exactly the kind of momentum and confidence a team would want to build heading into the playoffs. The most bizarre thing is that the Celtics seem to match up better against the Warriors than they do against most potential Eastern Conference opponents.
However, it wouldn’t be a true test had it not ended with one more showdown against Kobe Bryant. Despite an abysmal shooting year for the Mamba’s last hurrah, he was a sharp thorn in the Celtics’ side, to put it lightly.
Had his 34 points come to him on something more attractive than his 11-28 performance from the field, we would call it a “vintage Kobe” game, but 17 missed fields goals are a lot, so we might have to settle for “a few days past his expiration date Kobe” instead, but with The Legend of Zelda theme playing on the organ, I’d think of him as final boss Kobe. A boss that only a young, undersized hero wearing green could defeat.
As Kobe put on a throwback performance against the Celtics, the Cs were happy to oblige with a throwback performance of their own, putting on a show almost reminiscent of their game against the Lakers in December, when they lost at home by a dozen points. In fact, it was almost identical, as the Cs shot 38-88 from the field (43.2%), 7-27 from deep (25.9%) and 21-25 from the line in December, followed up by 41-91 from the field (45.1%), 8-30 from deep (26.7%), and 17-22 from the line (77.3%) the other night.
With five games remaining and 45 wins to their name, the Celtics are doing about exactly as well as many projected them to, but I would argue that their slightly better than their record shows. Ever since their 19-19 start let some of the Thomas doubters get one last word in, the Celtics have gone 26-13. Needless to say, it's the 26-13 Celtics that the fans are boasting about.