17, 15 and 19.
Those are the point totals the Boston Celtics gave up on Wednesday night in the first, second and fourth quarters.
The C’s have consistently played well against the Golden State Warriors the last several seasons, bringing their best effort for one of the NBA’s top dynasties of all time. This game was all that intensity turned up to another level. Boston held the Warriors to a dismal 29% shooting from the field in the first half, 4-24 shooting from deep, forced eight turnovers and held a 13-point lead at the break.
The lead was in double-digits despite the C’s being cold at the start, too, making fewer than 40% of their attempts. The defense carried them early, with Rob Williams soaring to an incredible rotation to stuff a layup attempt from Jordan Poole after he broke free from his man:
Rob Williams shut it down like parental controls— Meghan Ottolini (@Meghan_Ottolini) March 17, 2022
The improved awareness of Williams is one of the reasons he anchors this elite defense. He’s starting to see layups a step before they happen, and his quick leaping ability and length allow him to cover ground to get to these blocks. He finished with four blocks in 24 minutes, the most he’s had in under 30 minutes played since before Christmas.
Williams’ awareness to clean up after perimeter mistakes makes him an incredibly valuable team defender. But what happens when the Timelord himself gets beat and is out of position?
Quite simply, Williams recovers. He’s playing hard through the first mistake so they don’t compound into more. He recovers to swat shots at the rim and uses his ridiculous closing speed to get to balls that opponents don’t think he can get to.
He had a big recovery chase down that led to a Jaylen Brown triple on the other end:
With Williams flying around on the interior, the C’s can be more aggressive on the perimeter. Guys like Grant Williams or Al Horford are less afraid of getting driven past since they have that cushion behind them. Against a shooting team like Golden State, that assertive perimeter defense allows them to contest every shot.
The game took a major momentum swing with 4:09 left in the first half, when Marcus Smart caught Steph Curry on the back of the heel while diving for a loose ball. Smart would receive a flagrant foul finishing the play on the other end with an out-of-control contest of a Klay Thompson layup, but it was Curry who would be done for the evening.
Losing Curry, who had been cold to that point, left the Warriors without enough offensive firepower. Sharpshooting rookie Moses Moody exited earlier with a shoulder injury, Draymond Green was on a minutes restriction and Andrew Wiggins was out of the lineup.
The Warriors hung around thanks to the explosive play of Jordan Poole, who scored 19 points in the third quarter and was the lone scorer on the floor for the Warriors. Things got close early in the fourth, with Golden State trimming their deficit to about ten. That’s when Payton Pritchard made his presence known, scoring eight consecutive points for the Celtics, including two big triples, to push them comfortably ahead:
PAYTON PRITCHARD HAS 8 STRAIGHT POINTS pic.twitter.com/zA1qqurZBe— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) March 17, 2022
Boston certainly warmed up in the final frame from deep. Jayson Tatum hit some big shots, Marcus Smart drained some more, and then Pritchard and Jaylen capped it off. Those four combined to score 82 of Boston’s 110 points.
The Celtics were great on defense Wednesday. The Warriors were not at full strength and became further hampered by the injury suffered by Curry in-game. Those two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. This was a fantastic showing to start off the road trip that featured continued defensive effort and great shot-making when they needed it.
We’ll see if the Celts can keep it rolling on Friday in Sacramento.