OAKLAND, Calif. – For any team other than the Golden State Warriors, it might be presumptuous to ponder potential NBA Finals opponents. Well, the Warriors have earned a right to ponder such things given their dominance in recent seasons.
So with the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics in town for a Saturday night showdown, Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked if there was anything his team could learn from seeing a potential playoff foe. The obvious insinuation: Might this be a potential Finals preview?
Kerr didn’t shy from it.
“These are always interesting games when you know you have a chance to be in the Finals and you know kind of who the potential opponents are,” said Kerr. “You always play closer attention for that reason.”
Keeping with the trend of the past three seasons, the Celtics, who had emerged with wins their last two trips to Oracle Arena, gave the Warriors all they could handle. Boston coughed up a double-digit first-quarter lead and labored through the middle quarters but surged ahead in the fourth before the Warriors escaped with a 109-105 triumph.
There was an obvious energy inside Oracle. And most fans in the loge spent the final four minutes of play standing as the conference leaders traded punches.
It was Steph Curry who, after Boston missed a chance to pull back ahead when Al Horford missed a bunny and Marcus Morris a tip-in, broke the final tie of the night with a pull-up 3-pointer in transition with 1:44 to go. Curry added a driving layup a short time after and finished with a game-high 48 points overall.
The Celtics pulled within one in the closing seconds but never got a chance to truly tie or force overtime.
Steph Curry hits a deep 3-pointer, followed by a layup to put the Warriors up 5 on the Celtics with under 2 minutes remaining.
Curry struggled mightily during Golden State’s trip to Boston in November, and his off night helped Boston rally from as much as 17 down to stun the Warriors in that game. But Boston was missing one of its key Curry antagonizers in Marcus Smart, who is out for two weeks after lacerating his hand while punching a picture frame in Los Angeles this week.
Curry’s dominant night spoiled a remarkable effort from Kyrie Irving, who scored a team-high 36 points on 13-of-18 shooting.
In the 4th quarter, Kyrie Irving drills a tough 3-pointer and Steph Curry answers with a bank shot in the lane.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Celtics and Warriors a 20 percent chance of meeting in the Finals, currently the second most likely matchup behind only a Warriors-Raptors pairing.
The Celtics entered Saturday’s game with the worst offensive rating in the NBA for the month of January, but Boston came out sizzling. The Celtics shot 61.9 percent in the first quarter and built a double-digit lead. The first-quarter outburst was highlighted by Irving and Jaylen Brown putting up 14 points apiece on a combined 9-of-9 shooting.
Stevens had talked Friday about a fear of the big runs that the Warriors tend to go on – and with relative ease – and Golden State showcased that with a 10-0 run to start the second quarter that evened the game. Boston managed to push out its lead again, but the Warriors always seemed to have an answer, particularly when Kyrie Irving went to the bench. In the first half, Boston was plus-9 during Irving’s 18 minutes of floor time and minus-5 in the six minutes he rested.
The Warriors outscored Boston 30-19 in the third quarter and opened their own double-digit lead before the Celtics charged to make things interesting in the final frame.
The Celtics, who have dropped five of their last six games, wrap up a four-game road trip on Monday night in Denver. The Warriors, winners of seven of their last eight, visit Utah on Tuesday night.