The Celtics are the best team in the East against good teams: 5 takeaways from Celtics vs. Warriors

"We have the talent and we have the guys, we have the potential, we have the desire, too."

Celtics Warriors
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart reacts after shooting a 3-point basket against the Golden State Warriors. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

The Celtics started their final trip west of the season on a high note, blowing out the Warriors 110-88 Wednesday as Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green all returned to the floor.

Rather than relying purely on a monstrous game from Jayson Tatum, the Celtics got contributions across the board. Sprinkle in 26 points including 11 made free throws from Tatum, four blocked shots by Robert Williams, 26 points from Jaylen Brown, four 3-pointers and eight assists from Marcus Smart, and a pair of enormous 3-pointers by Payton Pritchard, and the Celtics have a stew going. The Warriors have the NBA’s best home margin of victory this season at +10.6. The Celtics beat them by 22.


In February and March, the Celtics are 15-3 — one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Maybe more to the point as the calendar works its way toward the postseason, the Celtics are the best team in the Eastern Conference against teams above .500. Beating the Warriors boosted them to 21-16. The No. 1 seed Heat are second at 21-18. The only other team above .500 is the No. 7 seed Raptors at 20-19.

“It shows that we’re going up in the right direction and can compete with any team out there on any given night,” Smart said. “We have the talent and we have the guys, we have the potential, we have the desire, too, the heart and the work ethic.”

More takeaways

2. Smart seemed to (understandably) take great offense to the idea that people would call him “dirty” after he dove into Steph Curry’s leg pursuing a loose ball.

“I’ve been doing this since I first came in the league,” Smart said. “And not only that, we seen guys like Draymond do that the play before with him and Grant [Williams], actually. Him and Grant got into it, and Grant got hurt. Whiplash. Hurt his neck. Nobody said anything about that as a clean play, as a dirty play. Like I said, I could really care less about that because I know who I am. …


“I’m sure I’m going to get called dirty. I mean, that’s their opinion. Like I said, I know who I am, my teammates know, and my colleagues know I’m not a dirty player. And I play very hard, and I leave everything I have, my life, on the court. So it is what it is, it’s part of the game, you move on.”

Both Juan Toscano-Anderson and Green said that they didn’t think the play was dirty.

“I’d expect Marcus Smart to make that play,” Green said. “He plays hard. … It may be unnecessary, but that’s the most I can call it. But I can’t call it a dirty play. The ball’s on the floor; at every level of basketball we’re taught to dive on the floor and go after the ball.”

As for the kick, Green had a funny response.

“S— happens,” he said. “I’ve kicked somebody before. It is what it is.”

The two cents here: Smart isn’t a dirty player, he’s just rough. There’s a distinct difference. Anyone who has ever played pick-up basketball against a football player has played against someone kind of like Smart — tough and highly physical, a very frustrating brand of basketball for opponents.


That’s why he gets under opponents’ skin, but it’s also why his teammates and coaches love playing with him and vouch for his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy.

“He sets the tone for us on a night-to-night basis,” Ime Udoka said. “I think he mentioned how him and Rob not getting recognition on one of the top defensive teams in the league doesn’t really make sense. So, if that’s the case, it’s like MVP or All-Star voting, you’re based on wins and your record, and I think defense should be in the same category.”

3. The Celtics were playing really well defensively before Curry went down, but afterward, they were suffocating. If it wasn’t for a brief hot stretch by Jordan Poole, they likely would have gotten the lead up to 30, and the starters might have been able to rest in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Celtics had to settle for holding the Warriors to 88 points — their 11th time this season holding a team to 90 points or fewer in a game. Their defensive rating, which has climbed a bit in recent weeks, plummeted back down to a dominant 95.7 points per 100 possessions allowed.

“Do what we do, guard, make things tough, take away what we want to take away, and live with the long shots and long rebounds and get out running,” Brown said. “We executed that for the most part I think. The third quarter they might have got loose on us a little bit, but for the most part we kept everything under control.”


“I’ve never seen the Warriors struggle this much on the offensive end just to get a shot off!!!” Kendrick Perkins tweeted. “Carry on…”

4. Payton Pritchard hit a pair of back-breaking 3-pointers in the fourth that helped open up the lead after Poole’s explosion. Quietly, Pritchard’s 3-point shot seems like it’s clicking into place. Turning Pritchard into a floor-spacing regular rotation player would be an enormous boost.

5. Brown stifled a yawn as he spoke to the media — a reminder that these West Coast road trips are difficult for a variety of reasons, including jet-lag.

Still, the victory put the Celtics in a very friendly position: Fourth by themselves in the Eastern Conference, just a game behind the Sixers (with whom they hold the tie-breaker for the time being, due to their record in the division) and two games behind the Bucks. Home-court is still very much within their grasp in the first round. There’s a non-zero chance they could still get it in the second-round as well.

The turnaround is staggering.


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