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The Read & React: good offense, better defense

Last season’s Celtics had a grittiness to them that made Boston a feared defensive team. As this regular season comes to a close, that defense first mentality has returned.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Passing pristine (Bobby Manning): There was one play where Kelly Olynyk grabbed a dribble handoff from Isaiah Thomas and scorched by Draymond Green to the rim where he dumped the ball to Amir Johnson to dunk. That was one of countless brilliant sets of passes by the C's the both highlighted how crucial Al Horford is to what they do and how brilliant of a ball movement team they've become.

Warriors may have won if Kevin Durant played but they still would not have moved the rock like the Celts did tonight. Horford and Marcus Smart established inside position as outlets, Jae Crowder and Terry Rozier had their moments of penetration and distribution despite some costly turnovers, and Thomas was able to draw doubles on his drives so well all he had to do was stop and turn to find an open teammate.

It was one of those nights where the team looked like the Spurs and is evidence again that when the C's are fully healthy and have all their outlets in place in the offense they're as deadly as any team.

As a side note, it'll be hard to laugh at Olynyk for any reason after this win. Brilliant performance.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

How to beat the Warriors by really really trying (Bill Sy): At the start of the 4th quarter, Golden State was clinging to a 74-72 lead. Brad Stevens’ plan was to make this a game of attrition and he had the Warriors right where he wanted them. Steph Curry had already played 30+ minutes and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson were fresher with 25+ under their belt. By contrast, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley were all hovering in the 18-22 minute range and just waiting to be unleashed.

It’s not just that the Celtics held the Warriors to 12 points in the 4th quarter on 5-of-14 shooting; it’s that they held Curry and Thompson to just four shots. Four missed shots. It’s one thing to have the blueprint on how to beat Golden State; it’s another to have the personnel and wherewithal to execute it.

The principals of the Thompson-Curry Rules seem to be: 1) stick to them like glue and stay on their shooting hands, 2) overplay passing lanes if possible, 3) stay between the bigs and the basket (even if that means giving up long-2’s or even 3’s), and 4) don’t overreact to miracle shots.

The qualifier to this win is that the Warriors were without Kevin Durant and the Celtics know that, but that doesn’t take away the importance of this win. It’s not so much that they can beat anybody, but more so that they can defend anybody. Since the All Star break, the Celtics have the 7th best defense in the NBA and they’ve done it against some pretty offensively talented teams in the Clippers, Cavaliers, and Warriors.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Bullying the bully (Keith P. Smith): When Steph Curry got Jaylen Brown to bit on his fake and drilled that three to end the quarter and then yapped all the way to the bench, the Celtics had two options: crawl in their shell and take their beating and stand up and punch the bully in the nose. While they didn't throw any actual punches, they threw plenty of haymakers in perfect legal ways.

Boston ripped off a 15-0 run by doing the things that we have come to love about this team the last three years. They played defense, hustled and didn't back down. They stayed attached to the Warriors, fought through screens, used active hands to pile up who knows how many deflections and went in the bully's house and pushed him around. The Warriors had scored over 100 points 56 consecutive times at home and Boston snapped that streak. They also held the Warriors to 12 points in the fourth quarter, 6-30 from three for the game and forced 18 turnovers. And then to close it, they hit the offensive glass for two big rebounds and stretched a game clinching trip over one minute in length.

The Celtics have a maddening tendency to play to the level of their opponents and it has caused them in the past, most recently vs. Phoenix. But that same tendency causes them to rise up and play their best against the best. And they aren't afraid. And the best news of all? There are no bad teams in the playoffs to play down to.