Sports

Celtics shine on defense in beating Golden State Warriors, 94-86

Avery Bradley’s breath seemed miles away. He bent over near the sideline trying to catch it, his hands on his knees, his chest heaving, his body draped in sweat.

It was the first quarter.

The Celtics guard had hounded Stephen Curry for the better part of that opening frame, and by this point — with 1:48 left — Curry had 1 point.

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The Golden State Warriors guard scored 54 points against the New York Knicks Wednesday in Madison Square Garden, and it was clear from the start of Friday night’s game at TD Garden that Curry wouldn’t duplicate that performance against the Celtics.

“Avery set the tone very early,” said Kevin Garnett.

From there, the Celtics put forth a defensive clinic, culminating in a 94-86 win.

Curry scored 25 hard-earned points on 6-of-22 shooting and the Warriors shot 34 percent overall, including 5 of 23 from 3-point range.

But one key to the Celtics’ victory — their second straight — was that they played zone defense against a team loaded with shooters. Normally, such a plan would be considered basketball suicide, as a zone defense provides shooters with open looks if they space the floor properly.

Yet the Celtics’ zone defense caught the Warriors by surprise.

“This morning, my thought was, ‘How many times are they ever zoned?’ ” coach Doc Rivers said. “I don’t think they’ve been zoned that much and I think [assistant coach] Kevin [Eastman] looked it up; it was 70 minutes this year.

“So we just went with it and it worked.”

Golden State actually plays plenty of zone defense itself.

“We did the same thing they do to others tonight,” Bradley said.

Key for the Celtics was communication while playing that scheme.

They chatted constantly, pointing out gaps and then closing them to limit space for shooters.

Curry made 3 of 11 3-point attempts, but he made up for it at the free throw line, where he made all 10 of his shots.

Still, Curry struggled late. He scored 2 points in the third quarter, missing all four of his field goal attempts. He also airballed a wide-open 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, after which the Celtics made six straight shots to extend their lead.

“He’s the best shooter in our league, and he missed some open ones,” Rivers said, “but I thought he pushed it quick, I mean, he was trying to get it out of his hands.”

Said Curry: “Obviously my shot wasn’t falling — I was kind of out of rhythm all night.”

The Celtics, meanwhile, were carried by their captain, a recurring theme ever since Rajon Rondo went down.

Paul Pierce scored a game-high 26 points and added eight rebounds.

Only one other Celtic scored in double figures — Jeff Green had 18 off the bench — but Boston received a balanced effort, with six others scoring 7 or more points.

Garnett grabbed 13 rebounds and added 7 points, and his physicality inside hindered Warriors All-Star forward David Lee, who scored 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

“I thought we were the aggressive team throughout the game,” Garnett said. “They went on a little run, but they’re known for that.

“I thought [that] when they did go on runs, we cut the runs short.”

The Celtics led by 11 after the first quarter, yet Golden State was within 4 at halftime. Bit by bit, the Celtics started to pull away in the fourth.

But back to Bradley.

The feisty defensive guard was saddled by foul trouble after picking up his fifth foul early in the third quarter.

So it wasn’t as though Bradley was in Curry’s grill from tipoff to the final buzzer, but when Bradley did guard Curry, he was certainly effective.

“I just tried to make everything hard on him tonight, just tried to tire him down,” said Bradley, who played 21 minutes and scored 8 points.

But Bradley said he wasn’t playing any harder than usual. “I play the same way every single game,” he said.

Curry was unable to recapture the magic he displayed in New York, but, in all, it wasn’t the Celtics’ plan to completely shut him down.

“I told our guys, ‘If Steph has 54 and we win, I’m taking that tonight,’ ” Rivers said.

“We have to guard everyone else. That’s the key. And other than [Harrison] Barnes, who got loose in the first half and I thought we did better [against] in the second, we accomplished that.”

Newcomers Shavlik Randolph and D.J. White, both under 10-day contracts, did not debut, but recent addition Jordan Crawford (4 points, 5 rebounds in 17 minutes) gave the Celtics a lift off the bench.

The win was the Celtics’ eighth straight at home, where they are 21-9 this season.

Prior to Friday, they hadn’t played there in two weeks.

But in their return home the Celtics played like they did before the All-Star break — sharing the ball, getting key stops, and piling up points.

Now, they return to the road for a back-to-back set with Philadelphia that starts Tuesday.

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