It’s rare that regular-season games live up to the hype, but the nationally televised prime time matchup between the Warriors and Celtics did exactly that on Saturday.
The game had everything: A brilliant duel between Steph Curry (49 points) and Kyrie Irving (37 points), the defensive intensity of the postseason, the in-game coaching adjustments by Brad Stevens and Steve Kerr that separate them from most NBA coaches.
After the game, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside of Cleveland still thinking that the imploding Cavs are a more worthy Finals adversary than the pesky Celtics.
Even this year, after they raced out to a 16-2 start following a horrific season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward, arguably their best all-around player, the Celtics making the NBA Finals would still be considered a disappointment, second fiddle to the Warriors-Cavs matchup we were all hoping for.
But now, after beating the Warriors at home in November and hanging with them until the last seconds on Saturday at Oracle, it’s clear that Boston is the team we want to see trying to dethrone Golden State in June.
Provided everyone stays healthy, the Warriors would still be heavily favored, but the Celtics have shown enough in their two matchups this season to prove that they might have a better shot at a more competitive — and more entertaining — NBA Finals.
Every Warrior acknowledged after the game that their defense on Irving wasn’t that bad — he just made shots …
Second is the Celtics’ stingy defense, statistically the best in the NBA for pretty much the entire season.
They held the Warriors to their second-lowest point total of the season (88 points) in the win in Boston, and on Saturday they contained Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to a combined 10-for-30 shooting from the field and 1-for-9 from 3-point range.
Stevens said before the game that they still don’t expect Hayward to play this season, but he gushed about how well he and the rest of the starting unit clicked during training camp.