BOSTON – The despair set in Friday night.
The Celtics went back to the locker room at half time surprisingly within striking distance, down 55-48 despite the Warriors defense looking like a collection of heat-seeking missiles.
But apparently Zaza Pachulia must have given some epic halftime speech, because the Warriors raced out to a 24-3 run out of the half and never looked back. They won 104-88, but the real win wasn’t the numbers. It was showing they could read the Celtics, take their best punch, and annihilate them back.
There is no question that the Celtics’ physicality disappears when Jae Crowder is off the floor. Al Horford’s absence was painfully apparent in the lack of coherence and execution on both ends. The Celtics were bullied and run ragged throughout the game, but third quarter was a complete annihilation.
“I thought we were too far extended on guys that weren’t the three guys in some scenarios,” Stevens said. “But I thought in others we were pretty good and you cant not score. I mean that sounds pretty simple and easy. But last year when we played them there, Curry went on that crazy run in the third quarter and we just scored every time he scored. They can make a lead slide quickly.”
The Warriors have the ability to constantly just hit the reset button at any point in the game with Durant or Curry out there. The offense was a constant flow through Klay Thompson, who was nearly perfect Friday with 28 points on 12-for-21 shooting.
But whenever the Celtics looked like they may catch fire, Durant was there to drop a helicopter load of water onto the twinkling embers. Whether it was isos out of the high post, dribble hand offs from the corner, or some transition explosion, Durant was, for the lack of a better term, a warrior.
“You’re always going to be better when your best players are playing,” Stevens said. “This is a tough matchup regardless. When you look at this stretch, we played Carmelo -- we played against Barnes the other night. We’re giving up some size and our guys a did a pretty good job. The post-ups, which [Durant’s] terrific at, to me, don’t kill you. The ones that kill you are the transition run-outs because you turned it over or when you go six possessions without scoring. Those are the ones that crush you.”
Klay Thompson was the true star of the game, but so many of his buckets came comically easy. The speed of the Warriors’ passing produced sonic booms that knocked the Celtics into a daze. They were so slow in their defensive rotations that Thompson often looked somewhat confused as he would pull up for an uncontested 18-footer.
Even when the Celtics begged Zaza Pachulia to bury them, he happily obliged. Everytime the Celtics tried to block a right hook, the Warriors smashed them with a body blow.
The Celtics brought it in the first half, but the Warriors unleashed in the second half. Jaylen Brown helped lead a solid comeback to get back within striking distance late. It even kept Steph Curry on the court for most of the fourth quarter. But he eventually put an end to that comeback malarkey.
The health issues reared their head again, as Marcus Smart left the game with a bruised left ankle.
“They said he bruised it. I don’t know exactly how or what happened,” Stevens said. “I asked [athletic trainer] Eddie [LaCerte] what does that mean or tonight and tomorrow. He said he was out tonight and will be reevaluated in the morning. But it doesn’t sound like a long term thing.”
Regardless of health, the distance between these two teams still stretches to the moon and back. They may be in the same solar system now, but until the Celtics are at full strength, it appears the Warriors’ tour de force will continue unimpeded.
The Celtics pick up the pieces and jump right on a flight to Detroit. Stevens doesn’t panic, because his players don’t know the meaning.
“It’s a long year. Everybody knows it’s a long year,” Stevens said. “We’ve got 70 games left. We haven’t played a game yet with two of our top rotation guys. Everybody’s got the [right] mindset. They know there are areas where we can improve.”
It’s a tough loss, but it always is.
“The one thing I like about our guys is that they’re disappointed after every loss.”
This one will be really disappointing.