The Saturday night prime-time national television spot is reserved for what the NBA anticipates will be premier matchups. Coming into the season, tomorrow night’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors was seen as a potential NBA Finals preview.
While the Celtics season hasn’t quite lived up to those expectations as of yet, fans are looking at this game as sort of a measuring stick for Boston’s progression. The Celtics understand facing the Warriors is not the same as taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they are also downplaying the magnitude of this matchup.
“I mean it’s a regular-season game, but at the same time I do think it’s different,” Al Horford said after practice today. “It’s just everything that they’ve done and how good of a team they are, it’s going to be a fun challenge for us.”
When pressed about this game being seen as a test, Horford said “I think we’re past the testing phase in my eyes. I think this is just us continuing to get better. It’s a regular-season game, like I said, but at the same time we know it’s going to be a much more intense game, because it’s Golden State.”
“As a competitor, it’s what you imagine going against,” Kyrie Irving said. “They all respect us, we all respect them, it’s just a great, competitive game, another regular season game.”
The Celtics have had some great regular season games against the Warriors over the past few years, with huge wins on the road and a thrilling double-overtime loss in 2015. The last time they met, it took a 13 point explosion by Steph Curry over the final two minutes of the game to hold the Celtics off. Now they’re adding DeMarcus Cousins to the mix.
“They look like they’re playing at an elite level right now,” Brad Stevens said today. “I think any time you add a guy like that, and he’s on a minutes restriction still, or at least he’s playing limited minutes, it just looks like everybody’s got a little more bounce in their step, and, they’re tough. I don’t know that I’ve seen them play better during the regular season stretch since maybe the year they won 73.”
The Warriors are third in the NBA, behind the Houston Rockets and the Celtics, in three pointers made, and Curry is perhaps the best shooter the league has ever seen, but that’s not the top defensive priority for Stevens.
“We always talk about the three’s make everybody say ‘ooh and ahh’ and they’re gonna get some of them but they just kill you with layups,” he said. “If you give up layups it opens up the whole rest of the game.”
The Warriors are Boston’s biggest challenge to date, but the feeling around the Auerbach Center wasn’t one of preparing for anything more than regular season game against a very good opponent. If any of the Celtics feel anything more about this game, they’re keeping those emotions close to the vest. The atmosphere and attention is different, but the preparation is mostly the same.
We went through what we need to focus on for ourselves,” Stevens said. “Obviously they’re a very unique matchup and a very difficult matchup, so there’s certain things you have to emphasize a little bit more.”