By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Following a pair of disheartening losses, the Celtics bounced back in a big way on Wednesday night in one of the toughest arenas in the NBA.
For the second straight season, the Celtics got the best of the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, breathing some rarefied air in the process. With their 99-86 victory over the defending Western Conference champs, the Celtics became the only team in the NBA that can lay claim to winning in Oakland in back-to-back regular seasons.
How the Celtics did it on Wednesday night is more promising than joining that singular fraternity. Boston frustrated the high-powered Warriors offense with suffocating defense over the game’s final 12 minutes, erasing a two-point deficit with a defense-fueled 15-0 run. It was a welcome return to the defensive identity the Celtics had last regular season, one that has abandoned them this season.
To understand just how good the defense was on Wednesday night, look no further than the output of Golden State’s top two stars (minus the injured Kevin Durant) in the final frame. Steph Curry had no points and took just one shot, while Klay Thompson finished with one point on 0-for-3 shooting. The Celtics forced 17 Golden State turnovers in the victory, including four during their 15-0 run and nine in the fourth quarter. The 86 points by the Warriors was their lowest total of the season, and the fewest points they’ve scored at Oracle since February 2014.
The Celtics knew they had to make life difficult on the Warriors offense, and the trio of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder took it a step further by making things downright miserable. They tired Curry and Thompson out by making them work for everything, exhausting themselves in the process, but that was all part of the blueprint.
“We just made it tough on them,” said C’s guard Isaiah Thomas, who had nothing but nice things to say about his teammates after this one. “Those are hell of a players over there — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson — we made it tough on them. I keep saying it but those three guys — Smart, Avery and Jae Crowder — they should be on one or two of those all-defensive teams because they make it tough on everybody each and every night. Kelly Olynyk played a hell of a game. Without him we probably wouldn’t have won tonight. He gave us a boost off the bench.”
“We match up well with these guys we feel like,” said Crowder, who in addition to his smothering defense hit a pair of key threes in the fourth. “We have good perimeter defense and enough inside to handle what they have. It’s just about committing to the game plan and getting it done, but we feel like we match up well with them.”
“We have the personnel to go out there and beat anybody,” added Bradley, who had 12 points to go with six rebounds on the evening. “We have a defensive mentality as a team, and I like our chances against any team.”
The Celtics were one of the best defensive teams last season, when they ended Golden State’s 54-game home winning streak. That has not been the case this season, with the defense absent for long stretches. Those lapses have cost them, whether they’ve occurred in the middle of games or over a lengthy stretch of games.
Boston returned to that defensive identity on Wednesday night against the best team in the West, and earned one of their best victories of the season. Hopefully that becomes the trend over the final five weeks of the regular season.