It’s asking a lot because they don’t have the collective offensive star power of a Houston or Golden State and thus have a much smaller margin for error, but clearly when they play to their peak, they can hang with, and beat, the very best.
Ultimately, the Celtics are not going to move the ball like the Warriors, but they make over 300 passes a game and should be able to rack up more than the 22.7 assists a night they average if they’re smart and attacking with those passes.
Defensively, the Celtics made James Harden work hard for his inefficient 26 points, forcing him into a 6-for-18 night, including 3 of 12 from three.
On this one possession, Boston stopped the best offensive team in the league three separate times.
First, Harden had the ball at the top, and eventually made his move off the pick-and-roll, but Horford gave ground and the second level walled him off in the paint, knocking the ball loose for good measure.
The pass was made to Trevor Ariza, who looked ready to fire when the pass was in the air, but there was Horford again, his second big-tie effort, flying out to thwart a shot attempt while also staying grounded to resist the show-and-go drive.
It was an absolute championship defensive possession against one of the two best offensive teams in history.
When Boston was rolling early into the year, they were playing defense like this every night, every possession, no matter who they were going against.
Gordon, as mentioned, was a killer, scoring 29 points on 7 of 11 from three, many of which came from a step or two beyond the line, where a lot of Rockets players — notably Ryan Anderson and Gordon — like to hang out and defenses still, for whatever reason, don’t push out far enough.
Back and forth all-night, shot for shot, stop for stop, 246 total points and it still felt like a tightly-contested affair.