SAN FRANCISCO — The Celtics haven’t dropped back-to-back games since Jan. 21, and that streak continued despite the Warriors throwing whatever they could at the C’s. Boston stood resilient throughout its 110-88 win over Golden State on Wednesday at Chase Center.
There was some first-half drama as Marcus Smart’s dive injured Stephen Curry and knocked him out of the game. The Celtics didn’t stutter in the face of some adversity, though, building up a double-digit lead by halftime against the Warriors.
Boston then took Golden State’s best shot Wednesday in the third quarter, where Jordan Poole got hot and scored 19 of the team’s 37 points in the frame. That almost ruined what had been a dominant defensive performance as the Celtics held the Warriors to just 32 first-half points. Golden State cut what was a 24-point lead all the way down to nine points with about eight minutes left in the game, threatening a comeback.
But that’s perhaps where the Celtics saved their best. Jaylen Brown, Payton Pritchard and the rest of the cast scored crucial buckets to keep the Warriors from ever getting too close. It was quickly again a comfortable enough lead in the final minutes as Boston coach Ime Udoka unloaded the benchwarmers.
The defense was again key for the Celtics. They held the Warriors to just 51 points in the other three quarters, never letting the shorthanded Warriors get too comfortable. While the third quarter was a black mark, the Celtics delivered the all-important victory Wednesday.
“Set the tone from the start, physicality was great,” Udoka said of the defense. “You obviously look at the results, 17, 15, 19 in the first, second and fourth quarter. Other than that third quarter, I felt our physicality was great. We want to impose that on guys from the start, we wanted to do that and start our road trip off right.”
It was the type of resiliency the Celtics showed Wednesday that should serve them well beyond the regular season. While it remains to be seen whether Boston has improved in clutch games, the Celtics have overcome adversity during their two-month hot streak. No longer are they wilting at the sign of pressure, instead stepping up when they need to most.
That’s a great sign for a playoff contending team like the C’s, where they hope they can make a deep playoff run. It’s also a stylistic switch from when Boston was a floundering .500 team. Beating another playoff contender like the Warriors — on their home court — served as another test for the Celtics.
“To bounce back and hold them to 19 in the fourth quarter after (Poole) had 19 alone in the third — credit to our guys to weathering the storm and continue to do what we did offensively and putting up 31 ourselves in the third and fourth,” Udoka said. “We didn’t let our defense affect our offense, kept playing the right way and figured it out in the fourth.”
Smart’s other foul
While most of the attention going Smart’s way was for the dive that ultimately injured Curry, he didn’t get a flagrant for that play. As Udoka said, it was a legal, hustling play, and there wasn’t any malicious intent behind it (though Steve Kerr called it a “dangerous play” postgame).
But the play that did get upgraded from a common foul to a flagrant came just seconds after the dive. With Klay Thompson on the fast break, he pump-faked the ball once he saw Smart flying to block the shot. That’s when Smart left his feet, then his right foot hooked inside Thompson’s arm. It didn’t look great on instant replay as Smart kicked Thompson, and the refs agreed it needed to be a flagrant foul.
Smart complimented Thompson on the fast break, saying he made a nice play by getting Smart in the air. But similar to the Curry play, Smart said the flagrant wasn’t intentional.
“I wasn’t trying to kick anybody,” Smart said. “I wasn’t trying to block no shot with my foot. Literally, he made a great play. I was going to block him and I tried to stop and he gave me a pump fake and my body kept going and the other part of me didn’t. So it happens. We see it all the time; it’s part of the game.”
The Celtics won Wednesday while the Bulls lost, meaning Boston got to just its latest destination in the East standings: Fourth place. Boston is 42-28, while Chicago fell to 41-28. While there’s only a 0.5-game difference between the two squads, that’s major progress for the Celtics. They’re in prime position to host a first-round playoff series, which was a far-off dream just a couple months ago.
The East is still packed as the C’s are only four games behind the first-place Heat at 46-24. The second-place Bucks are only two games behind the Heat at 44-26, and the third-place 76ers are three games away at 42-26.
While there are only a dozen games left in the season, the East is too packed for there to be any kind of projections at this point. Teams could seemingly finish far away from their current spot, which has been the case all season for a chaotic, packed Eastern Conference.
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