The Boston Celtics were never really out of it against the Golden State Warriors. The most Boston trailed by was 11 points, and that was very briefly. But, for much of the second half, it was a six-point deficit that felt like a 16-point deficit.
Then, it wasn’t a deficit at all.
Boston tied it up, got a stop to force overtime. Then they took a healthy lead in the extra period.
And in true Celtics fashion, they made it harder than it needed to be in the final minute or so. But they won. Ugly wins count just the same as pretty ones do in the standings. That’s the same as a win over the Charlotte Hornets counting the same as win over the defending champs.
But this wasn’t the same, even if the standings would have you believe otherwise. This was a big game. This was a chance for Boston to show they can still beat Golden State.
And they did it. And having to fight for it, through a whole bunch of chaotic, messy moments, somehow that feels even better and much more Celtics.
2. Al Horford admitted postgame that he really wanted to win this game. Horford didn’t have to say it though. His play made that clear.
The Warriors went small to open the game, in a curious move by Steve Kerr. Horford took advantage immediately. After drawing a couple of early free throws, Horford got right into the post against Andrew Wiggins. He patiently waved Rob Williams out of the paint and got to work:
A little later, Horford hit Wiggins with the “too small” after bullying him in the post:
Everyone else stopped here, except for Jordan Poole…and Horford:
When Kerr did go to Kevon Looney, he seemed a little out of rhythm. This isn’t a great closeout and Horford made him pay for it:
On the final play of regulation, Horford stuck right with Stephen Curry and made him take a contested shot as time expired:
And in overtime, it was Horford who helped put Curry and the Warriors to bed:
The best part of these clips? The first four came in the first quarter. The last two came late in the game, when the oldest player on the floor looked as ready to go as he did at tip-off. Boston doesn’t win without Al Horford having a monster night.
3. The Celtics also don’t win this game without a big night from Rob Williams. Williams teamed with Horford to control the paint all night.
Williams is obviously a game-changer for Boston on the interior. His size just shows up sometimes, like on this play. Williams slips the screen from Tatum and just powers through the contact for the and-1:
This was one of Williams’ seven offensive rebounds on the night, as he tipped in the Tatum miss:
Whether this was a bad miss or a bad pass, Williams does a nice job to haul it in before the tough finish:
Bigger and quicker is good, but being heads up to pick out a teammate is great:
On a night where he didn’t have the ferocious blocked shots, Williams was super impactful with his energy and effort all game long.
4. In somewhat of a rare occurrence, Boston dominated the paint. The Celtics outscored the Warriors by a whopping 52-30 advantage on points in the paint, and that’s with missing 11 shots at the rim.
The Celtics still got up their customary large allotment of three-pointers, but it was the work on the interior that kept them in the game. There was also a major flip at halftime with the glasswork. Boston had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, while Golden State had seven.
In the second half, the Celtics kept going to the offensive boards, as they grabbed nine more to make it 18 offensive rebounds for the game. The Warriors had just one second-chance opportunity after the break.
Overall, Boston outrebounded Golden State by a 63-47 margin. On the season, the Celtics are second in the NBA in defensive rebound rate, per Basketball Reference. They’re just a tic behind the Cleveland Cavaliers (78.4% to 78.3%). That’s a big part of why Boston has climbed the Defensive Rating rankings. They’re complementing their initial stops by finishing with rebounds.
5. Jaylen Brown was a mess to open this game. He was very clearly out of rhythm after missing a week due to adductor soreness. Late in the game, after shaking off the rust, Brown helped bring Boston home.
This was the first time Brown really opened up and outran everyone on the floor:
The Warriors never got matched up in transition here and Brown made them pay to help send it to overtime:
In the extra period, Brown played the bully. He went right over Stephen Curry for this push shot in the paint:
A little later, Brown got to his spot again and scored over Klay Thompson:
As with all things in life, Jaylen Brown showing up was better late than never.
6. This wasn’t the prototypical amazing Jayson Tatum game. He shot like crap and had some mind-bogglingly bad turnovers.
But Tatum found a way to get to 34 points, a career-high 19 rebounds, six assists and three steals. He made plays when the Celtics needed him to.
Sometimes, it seems like opponents forget just how long Tatum is:
In a frustrating shooting game, it was good to see Tatum not force things. He could have gone for the layup here to try and get himself going. But he makes the easy, and correct, play by lobbing it up to Rob Williams:
Making the right play is Tatum’s MO now. Al Horford is in his money spot and Tatum finds him:
And when he needs to bail everyone out and do it himself, there’s no one else Boston wants taking the big shot:
7. The Celtics are as healthy as they’ve been all season. Rob Williams has returned to the starting five, which meant rotation changes had to come. It was one game in a big spot, so we won’t read too much into it, but the rotation is all of a sudden really crowded.
We know the five starters from last season are all going to play and play a lot. Malcolm Brogdon is going to get his minutes. But we may see Derrick White and Grant Williams see a bit of a downturn in their minutes. Luke Kornet was the ninth man and he saw only spot minutes. Sam Hauser, who has been a rotation guy all season, and Payton Pritchard, whose minutes comes and go, didn’t even see the floor.
There’s room to knock minutes down for some of the main guys, but just getting on the floor is going to be a challenge for some players. This is why the Celtics making a big move at the trade deadline is probably off the table. They don’t have any glaring needs. They’ll fill out their depth through buyouts and keep things moving.
8. Marcus Smart did a good job of keeping Boston afloat during some tough spots. With the offense scuffling, Smart got into the post for a turnaround over Stephen Curry:
The Warriors switching was a mess all night. Their defense on the road this season has been really bad. Smart took advantage by using a Jayson Tatum screen to get an open triple:
As he has since getting to Boston, Smart remains the Celtics most heads-up player. Golden State doesn’t rotate back and Smart drops the bomb on Tatum for the runout dunk:
9. The 2022 NBA Finals made it clear the Celtics needed one more guy to keep things moving offensively when teams managed to slow down the stars. That guy is Malcolm Brogdon, and he showed why in this one.
Brogdon made several big plays throughout the game to help stabilize things for the Celtics. This is a good pull off a nice pass from Luke Kornet on the short roll:
Drive-and-kick is Brogdon’s game, but he does a nice job staying in the play for this and-1 putback:
Brogdon is also really good at finding his spots around the arc for kickout passes:
It looks like Brogdon is beaten here, but he recovers for the big block:
This was the type of game Boston acquired Brogdon for and he delivered.
10. Eight straight wins for the Celtics. They are absolutely rolling through January. They’ve built between a 4.5 and six-game lead over the other Eastern Conference contenders. That’s a nice little cushion.
Now, they’ll head right back on the road for another three-game trip. It’s an opposites trip, because they’ll start up north in Toronto before finishing down in Florida with games against the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic.
Maybe the Celtics come back home to Boston with an 11-game win streak going. But getting this one makes the next few feel a little like gravy. Faced with a big challenge, on a night when they weren’t playing well, the Celtics showed they’re championship-caliber. That’s how you finish before hitting the road again.