The Golden State Warriors are mowing down the league at a historic pace, and the Boston Celtics could be their next victim. Or, the Celtics could be the team that stops this runaway train in its tracks.
The fact of the matter is that, between now and Christmas, Boston probably represents the biggest threat to the Warriors’ winning streak. After playing the C’s, Golden State will not face a team with a winning record until the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day, and that game will be at Oracle Arena.
This clash on Friday night, however, is at TD Garden, a building where the Celtics have been hammering teams for the better part of the first month-and-a-half of the 2015-16 campaign. Boston has also won four of its last five against strong competition, so it enters this contest relatively hot.
While the Warriors will undoubtedly be the favorites heading into this matchup, the C’s do have a chance.
Let’s break down how they can pull off the upset.
Hope That Klay Thompson Doesn’t Play
Yeah, it might sound cheesy to list an opponent’s injuries as part of a reason why a team can win a game, but hey, injuries happen to everybody, and the Dubs may be without Klay Thompson in Beantown.
Thompson sprained his ankle during Golden State’s Tuesday night victory over the Indiana Pacers, and while the 2-guard wants to play (per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle), it’s Luke Walton and the Warriors’ brass who have the final say in the matter.
Keep in mind that the Warriors play a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday. After dealing with the Celtics, Golden State will head to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks the very next day.
It’s only natural to assume that Thompson will miss one of those two games, and the contest against Boston seems like the more probable one to sit seeing as how it’s the first one.
So, let’s say Thompson is sidelined.
That takes away a huge piece of a Warriors’ offense that’s already missing Harrison Barnes and puts an enormous onus on the shoulders of Stephen Curry to do a whole lot by himself.
Of course, Curry is perfectly capable of taking over games, but doing so is a lot more difficult when he’s sans his two starting wings.
Thompson’s absence (along with Barnes) would also thin the Dubs’ bench.
Stay Glued to Stephen Curry
This one probably sounds pretty obvious, but youd’ be shocked how many teams lose Curry in transition or off of offensive rebounds.
Part of the biggest reason why the Indiana Pacers got down early against Golden State was their inability to keep a body on the reigning MVP at all times.
Curry can hit 35-footers with a hand in his face, so he can certainly knock down wide-open three-pointers from normal range.
That means going over the top of screens instead of underneath, keeping a man in Curry’s vicinity whenever the Warriors take a shot and keeping an eye on Steph on fast breaks, both on and off the ball.
Curry is known for pulling up from deep in transition when the defense is inexplicably sagging off of him. If you’re a defender, you take the chance of playing tight and having him drive by you rather than surrendering a solid look from beyond the arc.
The bad news for the Celtics is that they’ll be without one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders in Marcus Smart. Still, they do have Avery Bradley, who will likely see the most amount of time on the superstar floor general.
Rotate Defenders on Curry
While Bradley will be the No. 1 option, he cannot be guarding Curry all game. He’ll get far too exhausted chasing No. 30 around the floor while running through multiple screens.
Jae Crowder will probably see some duty on Curry, and Isaiah Thomas and Evan Turner will also get their shots. You might even see long rookie R.J. Hunter get a chance, although Hunter is battling a hip injury and might not be available for Golden State.
Regardless, Boston must use at least a couple of different defenders on Steph. Defending him is far too taxing for just one player.
Win the Battle of the Benches
If there’s one area the Warriors are lacking, it’s bench scoring.
Golden State ranks 17th in the league in points from its reserves, an area where the C’s rank third.
This becomes even more imperative if Thompson is out, as that’ll force one of the Warriors’ key bench scorers (probably Leandro Barbosa) into the starting lineup.
While the Celtics may not have star power, they have a ton of depth, and they must utilize it.
If Boston’s bench gets outplayed by Golden State’s, the C’s have almost no chance of winning this game. However, if Kelly Olynyk and Co. can put together a stellar performance, Brad Stevens’s group will have a much better shot.
Don’t Try to Beat Them at Their Own Game
This is the most important bullet point.
The Pacers tried this, and it failed miserably. Paul George and the boys attempted to run with the Warriors and beat them in a fast-paced shootout. That’s the last thing you want to do.
The way to outlast Golden State is not to downsize and speed the game up, but to go big and slow the game down. It’s the same formula teams used to try and beat the Miami Heat during the Big Three era.
That means Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson and the rest of the Celtics bigs need to have huge games. Sullinger has to punish Draymond Green in the post, and both he and Johnson need to create extra possessions by grabbing offensive boards.
Thomas also must not get baited into a game of one-on-one with Curry. Sure, Thomas can drop 35-40 points on any given night, but Curry can drop 50.
If Boston is going to win this contest, it needs to dictate the tempo and share the basketball. Trying to outrun the Warriors or outscore Curry is only going to result in disaster.
So, Will the Celtics Do It?
Earlier in the week, I wrote an article breaking down the Celtics’ December schedule, and I had this game marked down as a loss. However, that was before Thompson sprained his ankle.
There’s a chance Thompson doesn’t play, and even if he does, he will not be at full speed.
This changes things.
If Thompson can’t go, the Warriors will be left with Green as their No. 2 option offensively (remember: Barnes is also out), and as awesome as Green is all-around, one thing he’s not is a go-to scorer.
So, I’m going to do it: I’m going to predict that the Celtics will win this game. It’s at home, and the TD Garden crowd will be in a frenzy, especially if the C’s get off to a good start.
Look for a big game from Sullinger to lead Boston in handing Golden State its first loss of the season.