Predictably, tonight's festivities began with the TD Garden absolutely abuzz about the recent exploits of Stephen Curry. When you explode for 38 points on the road against the best defensive team in the NBA, then follow that up with 54, on 28 shots, on the second night of a back-to-back ... yeah, that generally tends to turn a few heads.
Curry was the talk of the town as the Golden State Warriors rolled into Boston tonight. All the media, all the fans, all the Celtics -- everyone was raving about him.
"I think even if Curry had had six points, we'd have been really focused on Curry tonight," Celtics Doc Rivers quipped. "He's a great player."
But a funny thing happened on the way to Curry's third consecutive big scoring night -- the Celtics decided to make him work.
The pesky little guy still got his 25, to be sure. The way he's been playing lately, that's pretty much his bare minimum. But the Celtics hounded Curry all night long -- pressured him for the ball, got physical with him, forced him into inefficient shots. They did everything in their power to keep the Warriors' fourth-year guard from totally lighting them up. And it was enough, as the C's held Curry to 6-of-22 shooting and Golden State to a 34 percent clip overall. They turned a 60-60 tie ballgame into a runaway in the second half, waltzing to victory by a 94-86 final.
It began with slowing Curry, and everything else flowed from there.
"He's a very good player," said Avery Bradley, the guard charged with containing Curry for most of the night. "I just tried to make everything hard on him tonight. Tried to wear him down."
If that sounds like an understated, clichéd quote, there's a reason: This was an understated, clichéd game. The Celtics have accumulated countless wins like this over the last six years. They grinded, they executed, they played tough D when they had to, and they pulled out a win. Victories like this haven't been exceptional in this era. They've been the norm.
Time and time again, the Celtics have proven that they won't be beaten by a single player. No matter how well he's shooting.
"We should talk about Steph, because he's been phenomenal," Rivers said. "But I told our guys -- if Steph has 54 and we win, I'm taking that tonight. We have to guard everyone else. That's the key."
"We talked a lot about Steph, but they have a lot of really good players," agreed Paul Pierce. "David Lee was their only All-Star. You've got a top pick in [Harrison] Barnes, and you've got [Klay Thompson] who's coming into his own as a two-guard in this league. I think we did a good job of focusing not only on Curry, but on all of them, getting into them, making it hard on them. I thought Avery did a good job of wearing down Curry, but I thought everybody did a good job of wearing down everybody."
Bradley got into foul trouble early, however; shortly after that, Courtney Lee found himself in hot water with the refs as well. The Celtics were down to virtually zero guard depth, and they were tasked with stopping the NBA's hottest-shooting guard. So call it desperation, call it what you will, but whatever the reason, the Celtics decided to go zone.
"Zoning them, with all that shooting," Rivers mused. "My thought was, 'How many times are they ever zoned?' I just thought they shoot the ball so well, I don't think they've been zoned all that much. I think [assistant coach Kevin Eastman] looked it up, and it was 70 minutes all year. So we just went with it, and it worked."
Whether playing man or zone, whether emphasizing Curry or Klay Thompson or whomever else, the Celtics' defense did indeed work, as it pretty consistently has over the last month. The Warriors brought a dynamic scorer, but the C's brought a team effort, and it was enough.