January 27, 2015. Over one year and two months ago: the last time the Golden State Warriors lost a home game in the regular season. A 53 game win streak that amounts to the longest in NBA history.
That's what the Celtics were faced with off their disheartening loss to the Trail Blazers a night before that both dropped them down to the sixth seed in the east and capped off a 7-7 March filled with highs and lows. April would enter with a roar in front of the Oracle Arena crowd where Golden State is so lethal, 37-0 chasing the 1986 Celtics' illustrious 40-1 season in the Boston Garden. Simply put, a team fully loaded and chasing history.
Back on December 11, the two treated NBA fans everywhere to one of the best games of the season in Boston; a back-and-forth double overtime thriller that saw the Warriors escape by five, thanks in part to Avery Bradley fouling out and a late charge from Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala. Klay Thompson didn't play, on Friday night he did and Iguodala didn't, while the C's were without Jae Crowder who needed a rest after returning from a multi-week absence the prior night.
It was a game the Celts desired, if not needed, should they want to rise into position to start the playoffs at home. It would take a near perfect performance, improbable with Crowder out, so the Celtics instead took a new defensive stance: decisive risks and a relentless pursuit of loose balls to prevent Golden State from getting shot attempts in the first place.
Draymond Green (5-13, 16 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists) woke them up early two three-pointers in the first two minutes as the Warriors' confidence shined like a team that hadn't lost in their building in recent memory, throwing balls across the court and making plays with a high level of ruthlessness. But there was also recklessness with that exuberant approach, as the team committed four turnovers (22 on the game) in the first five minutes allowing the Celtics to work back into a 9-9 tie off Jared Sullinger's (7-13, 20 pts, 12 reb) three.
The game was improbably playing into the C's hands as Golden State committed their fifth turnover thanks to another sloppy delivery. Evan Turner (8-13, 21 pts, 5 reb, 5 ast) came back in transition to hit a tough in-between jumper and the Celtics suddenly led. Meanwhile the C's were able to hold them to no points in the ensuing 3+ minutes until Anderson Varajao (5 pts) checked in a scored on a hard roll to the bucket.
The Celtics held a 16-13 lead with over three minute to go in the frame, Bradley (15 pts) hit a pair of jumpers as the bench unit joined him responding to a former Celtic Leandro Barbosa (10 pts) lay-up with another. His string of shots wasn't enough as Harrison Barnes (5-11, 14 pts, 8 reb) punched back with one stroke from deep beyond the arc. The score stood at 18-18, but while the Warriors were turning it over eight times in the first 10 minutes the Celtics had missed four free throws.
After all that work, all the determination that pushed the C's up by as much as three in the first, Curry (9-19, 29 pts, 6 ast) erased it with a three around a screen. Golden State was up 23-21, the frustration of playing them, erasing minutes of work in seconds.
Into the second it didn't take long for the free throw problem to assert itself as Terry Rozier (5 reb) split his pair. Two minutes in the Warriors had extended their lead to 28-22 as the Celtics saw their shooting percentage begin to take a dip at 10-29. Four minutes of second quarter play saw one Celtics bucket in six attempts plus two turnovers. Golden State was leaving a window open and Boston would not jump through.
A lineup featuring Rozier, Turner, and Marcus Smart (7 pts, 4 reb, 6 ast) rode through the majority of the early second and while it kept the C's competitive defensively and active off the ball the buckets weren't falling. Amir Johnson (9 reb) finally broke the trend with a high switch onto Thompson (6-16, 15 pts) who he took into the post for an and-one. The response? A Shaun Livingston (8 pts) jumper off the bounce and a wide open Marresse Speights (5 pts) three that pushed Golden State back up 35-28. After a Jonas Jerebko (9 pts) three to get a break going the other way, Green picked up Isaiah Thomas (9-20, 18 pts, 6 ast) on the drive and stuffed him. Thomas started 0-5 with no free throw attempts.
But Turner was alive, forcing the Warriors' 11th turnover and drilling a corner three to put the Celtics back up moments later. Taking the ball away proved to be Boston's answer to stop an array of Golden State shots from falling. It would be a battle all the way to the half as Sullinger and Andrew Bogut shared tip-ins. Boston was attacking Golden State defensively and it was paying dividends.
The Warriors led 43-40 with a minute to go as a Bradley shot fell short. Turner fired back with a turnaround ISO jumper and the C's showed why they were in the game again, sending Bradley and Johnson to trap Curry off a screen at half court and force a turnover. A play later Bradley drilled a three and thanks to the turnovers forced Boston had a 45-43 lead.
Boston's defensive approach was intriguing to say the least, but Golden State left no time to feel good about it ever. Just a minute into the third, Curry hit a pair of threes and shattered the Celtics' stability, on the other hand Thomas opened up the frame with his first two buckets at the rim. Following a quick pair of free throws from him after, they led again 51-49.
Following his worst half of the season Thomas became the center of attention, even drawing blood from Curry, but every time Boston found light the Warriors seemed to slam the window shut with a crafty offensive play.
On the Celtics' end, Thomas was continuing to make up for lost time in the first half. After his eight point surge to start the quarter, he splashed a pull-up three and lay-in from Turner to push his charge to 13 points in under six minutes. Bradley pushed Boston's run to 7-0 with a fancy finish and suddenly they had "roaracle" rather quiet. They were even getting help from the refs with a phantom foul call on Varajao, which Curry promptly responded with a three.
Then it got chippy. Another close call led to Green getting in Bradleys face and a pair of missed free throws by Johnson brought the C's percentage down to 11-22. Thomas put his head down on two straight plays and barreled through the Warriors defense for five quick points. Then a series of offensive rebounds got Curry another three. For that frenzy, it was only right that Sullinger bounced the Celts back with a three.
Boston led 73-72 as the quarter stormed on. Just as Thomas was happening, so was Curry and at the extra-gear MVP level. Like that, the game entered full shootout madness mode, while Curry drained eight straight shots including six threes the Celtics had answers for it all offensively. When the flames finally settled, the C's were somehow safe, as Curry's 21 was countered by Isaiah's 18 in the frame.
Somehow, someway the Celts exited the storm with a three point lead. But 12 minutes remained.
They realized this and were proactive early. Stevens urged his team not to overreact emotionally to the Curry inferno and they didn't even consider it, turning up the throttle in the first minutes of the fourth with an 8-4 run. 37 teams had failed where the C's walked before that night and once again Boston was on the edge of breaking up the Warriors' chase of history.
At this point the Warriors had 17 turnovers with 9:00 to go and their fortunes were turning for the worst, as a Smart three fell to push their run to 9-0. A Turner jumper followed, Golden State turned it over for the 18th time and then got caught by a Smart "embellishment" in transition. Halfway through the fourth the Celtics were in full control up 10, but the run by Golden State seemed inevitable. A Barbosa three looked like a possible spark, but the Celtics' relentless energy in the frame continued and a well-rested Isaiah returned for the home stretch.
The home stretch seemed like miles against this team, though, and Steve Kerr was keen to remind his team how quickly they can turn the tides. Like clockwork, the run came behind Green who finished inside through a foul and hit a high three. After a turnover and Turner miss, Green was there again on a put-back to pull the Warriors within three.
As they had all half, the Celtics had an answer, as Brandon Rush lost a ball to Bradley who swung the ball to Isaiah. Boston led by five, but were far from safe on the edge of being roadblocks to history.
They would not pass up the opportunity. Turner took the C's into the zone again on Livingston and buried a tough jumper. Thompson fired back with a three. The Celtics turned it over and Curry fired up the crowd with a finesse lay-up. As Kerr said, the 5-0 run came in seconds and the Warriors were within two.
Turner came back in isolation again with yet another Celtics answer, an offensive board set up another chance for the Warriors as Livingston drove on Turner and barely drew a foul call. Celtics led by two as the clock ticked, they stormed into the zone and Johnson fell to the ground losing control of the ball. The Celts frantically tried to call timeout but it was too late as Green strangled the ball out of Johnson's hands.
The Warriors had the ball, 30 seconds to go, and in the ultimate irony Johnson stripped Green on the drive. Luckily the foul didn't send Boston to the line yet and Turner got the free throws instead, drilling both. Golden State sprinted up the court, Curry collapsed the defense on the drive and dished to Barnes for three.
Then the craziest play of the night occurred, Boston in-bounded to Isaiah past the fingertips of Curry and Thomas turned to the bucket and finished a difficult layup with eight seconds left. The Celtics needed to survive one last charge up three, Curry rushed the court cocked and fired. The shot rolled in and out, the Celtics had shocked the world 109-106 over the Warriors. Golden State looked unstoppable at home but a methodical effort by the Celtics placed a dent in history and boosted the team back into the seeding race.