The Boston Celtics defeated the Golden State Warriors on Friday at Oracle Arena and snapped their home-winning streak at 54 games.
History got a bit more complicated for the Warriors on April Fools’ eve in Oakland, and really, it was all as simple (and as strange) as that. The longest regular-season home winning streak in NBA history, dating back to January 27, 2015, came to an end following a 109–106 win by the Celtics.
The instinct here, of course, is to think macro and do the increasingly-simple math: Golden State—the golden boys—can afford one loss with six games to go in order to pass the 1995-96 Bulls and break the 72-win benchmark that’s stood for two decades.
In a different sense, that’s what Steve Kerr did in the locker room, immediately congratulating his team on 54 consecutive victories at home. “I don’t know if people understand the intensity and the work it takes to put together a streak like that,” he told reporters. Surely, it’ll look more astounding in time. But now, 76 games into an extended daydream of a season, there are just two more items on the checklist: first, five more wins, and then a shinier, heavier one.
How it happened
On the smaller, 48-minute scale, the Celtics were better and the Warriors were “out of sync,” as Kerr put it. The defense lagged. The results were mixed. “[Our effort] eventually got there, but it was too late,” the coach said. Golden State, for its money, is rarely tardy, but a tough Boston team pushed it all the way to double overtime back in December and had clearly figured something out since. Tight perimeter defense and forgoing ball-switching in favor of staying with Stephen Curry forced 22 turnovers that led to 27 points. Loss No. 8, appropriately, stung a little bit. The Warriors were the first home team in NBA history to hit 20 threes ... and still lose.
Turn the magnifying glass to Boston and there was a hungrier group, one night after a late loss in Portland, fighting through a weeklong West Coast swing. Per usual, Brad Stevens gameplanned exceptionally. While defensive lynchpin Jae Crowder rested an ankle injury, Curry and Klay Thompson were bottled up in the first half by Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and a stout backcourt: the Splash Brothers combined for 4-of-13 shooting and just 11 points, tying their lowest output in a half this season.
Perhaps the greatest testament to the Celtics’ defense: the Warriors never managed more than two consecutive unanswered field goals the entire game. Boston had answers. As Curry erupted in the third quarter (6-of-6 from three, 21 points), so did Thomas (18 points on 7-of-9 shooting). When things got chippy and Draymond Green started chirping, so did the Celtics. Speaking of chippy, don’t undersell the fact Andrew Bogut caught a Bradley elbow setting a screen and left in the third quarter with a rib injury, leaving Anderson Varejao and Marreese Speights to bridge the gap to the Draymond Green-at-center fourth-quarter deathstroke.
“We can make this up in like two minutes, right?”
“Or maybe one minute,” Steve Kerr said, mic’d up during a mid-fourth quarter timeout. It does not matter at what point he said this, only that it was prescient: the aforementioned Draymond-related carnage indeed cut the game to three.
We ran out of Curry superlatives months ago, and likewise, a thesaurus has become commonplace with these sorts of sequences from Green. The All-Star forward drove for a layup and a foul shot, then drilled a three on the next play. Then he missed another longball, rebounded the miss and saved the possession, rebounded Brandon Rush’s miss, too, and put it back for two more—eight consecutive points in under a minute of elapsed time.
When Curry and Thompson struggled again in the fourth, shooting just 2-of-9 together, there was Green again, stripping Amir Johnson at the top of the key, then diving over the top of him ripping the loose ball from his hands, and calling a timeout, down two with 30 seconds to go.
The very next play was a characteristic opposite, as Green bobbled a pick-and-roll pass from Curry while looking for Thompson on the outside and committed Golden State’s most painful turnover of the night. Nevertheless, he finished with a remarkable line of 16 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and six steals. Who else does that? Well, the exact line has never happened before, and the last player to match those totals was (unsurprisingly) Russell Westbrook, back in 2012.
Now we can talk about Isaiah Thomas
Celtics upset Warriors thanks to late inbounds pass from Marcus Smart to Isaiah Thomas pic.twitter.com/u3t6R8XVHd— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 2, 2016
Risky business, eh? Those were the go-ahead points, up one out of a timeout following a last-ditch Harrison Barnes made three. Thomas almost gave it away by not bothering to get fouled, but at some point, what do you expect from him? He’s fearless, he hunts for the big moments and the first-time All-Star and Mr. Irrelevant of the 2011 draft got himself one.
The smallest guy on the floor was Boston’s indisputable breadwinner, following a scoreless, 0 for 7 first half (while chasing Curry around most of the time) with 13 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter. He scored 22 points, all in the latter half of the game, to lead the team.
Normally, he’s seen as the weak defensive link next to Bradley, Marcus Smart and Evan Turner in the backcourt. Friday, this was not the case: Thomas put on a clinic in how to stick with the soon-to-be two-time MVP. It’s almost the playoffs, and it’s a good time to root for Isaiah Thomas.
Steph bleeds, too
It was totally unclear how Curry got scraped up in the third quarter, but more importantly, we have evidence he might be a human being.
This theory was further evidenced, more surprisingly, by the fact Curry missed the last shot. Come on, you thought it was good, too. (And yes, that is a very-illegal Green tabletopping of Smart that wasn’t called.)
Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are inbound. The Blazers already beat the Warriors at the Moda Center on Feb. 19. The Blazers are capable of beating the Warriors on Sunday night. Lillard is in midst of a pretty incredible season of his own, he’s good enough to have people ask him if he plays like Steph Curry, he gets mad when people ask him that and he generally plays well when he’s mad. They’ll go head to head for the final time this season, with stakes, as the Blazers hunt for improved playoff position.
They had to lose at home eventually, strange as it feels, and the fact is, the Warriors are beat up. Bogut may not play. Festus Ezeli and Andre Iguodala are still out, barring further notice. Kerr admitted to the wear and tear of the season, and some “slippage” in the past couple weeks. The turnover issues are a thing: Golden State committed 18, 16 and 18 in the three games prior to Friday’s loss. Don’t ignore the Final Four, but there’s history on the line here, too.