For the Golden State Warriors, one of the most difficult challenges of the regular season has been that of maintaining a consistent level of focus.
After appearing in four consecutive NBA Finals — and winning three — it’s been tough for the two-time defending champions to stay locked in for a full 48 minutes.
On Saturday night at TD Garden in Boston, however, the Warriors faced no such hurdle as the hosting Celtics brought a level of intensity that carried a playoff-like feel in a potential NBA Finals preview. Because of their vast experience in postseason play, the Warriors looked right at home as they ground out a 115-111 over Boston, winning their 10th game in a row.
“Composure and patience,” said Golden State shooting guard Klay Thompson. “We’ve been in so many close games throughout our careers that this feels normal. It’s a great road win. These are hard to come by against a team like that.”
Riding a nine-game winning streak, the Warriors entered Saturday night prepared to face a familiar foe in Kyrie Irving. Facing on the Duke product in three consecutive Finals while he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2015-17, the Warriors were well aware of the challenges he posed.
Irving became a problem for Golden State early, as he would dish out a pair of assists on Boston’s first two baskets and nail a pull-up 3 pointer from 27 feet in the first two minutes of the game. By the end of the first quarter, Irving would have 11 points and four assists.
On the other side of the point guard battle, Stephen Curry took a bit longer to make his impact on the game as foul trouble prevented him from gaining any rhythm from 3-point distance early in the game.
“It really put a cog in that first quarter,” Curry said. “But to see one go down [in the second quarter], it was an avalanche from there.”
Down by three in the second quarter, Curry caught fire, hitting four consecutive 3-pointers within a three-and-a-half minute span, the fourth of which saw Curry begin dancing before the ball hit the net.
Despite the onslaught of scoring from Curry, the Celtics refused to wilt as they prevented Golden State’s lead from reaching double digits. Going down by as many as nine, Boston closed the gap to only two points before halftime.
“They were great defensively,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “They’ve got dynamic offensive players … They made it hard on us.”
In the second half, neither Golden State nor Boston could establish any distance from one and other. As the Warriors built their lead to as many as eight in the back half of the game, the Celtics were able to reel themselves back to even every time.
By the fourth quarter, Golden State had only a six-point advantage after seeing 18 lead changes heading into the final period.
Tied at 108 with two-and-a-half minutes to go, the Warriors would put the ball in the hands of their two-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant, who used his speed and aggressiveness to get the basket and the free throw line in crunch time.
“I thought Kevin set a great tone for use,” Kerr said. “When he’s attacking like that, that’s when our team is at it’s best. He’s the one guy on our team who can really create an advantage out of nothing, get down hill and create a lot of havok.”
Taking five of his 13 free throw attempts in late stages of the fourth quarter, Durant was able to help fend off a Boston in a hostile TD Garden. He would finish the with a game-high 33 points on 10-of-23 shooting.
Taking the win over Boston, the Warriors got a chance to face a true challenge for the first time in several weeks.
“We needed this game,” Kerr said. “We’ve played three-straight opponents, all decimated by injuries. We needed to be challenged and we were challenged big time.”