Why Warriors’ eye-opening win vs. The Celtics comes at perfect time

Why Dubs’ eye-opening win vs. Celtics comes at perfect time originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — The Boston Celtics can disagree, thanks in large part to the 123-107 final score Saturday night at Chase Center being in favor of the Warriors. Celtics star Jayson Tatum can say, and even believe, that the media made the first meeting between these two squads since the 2022 NBA Finals a bigger deal than it needed to be.

Truth is, this wasn’t merely game No. 27 in an 82-game regular season. It meant more than that. Well, at least to the defending-champion Warriors.

“Definitely,” Steve Kerr said when asked if this game felt any different than a regular-season game. “The crowd was excited, we were excited. I mean … just the feeling of going against the team that you just played in the Finals, and especially with the way they’ve played this year. They’ve just been so good and so dominant.

“I think we needed a game like that. We’ve been a little stuck in the mud and it feels like we’ve gotten better over the last few weeks, but not a whole lot to show for it. So, this was an important win for us.”

After falling to the Warriors six months ago in the Finals, the Celtics were the ones out for revenge. They also came into the night with the best record in the NBA at 21-5. The Warriors were eight games worse, sitting at .500 with a 13-13 record.

While the Celtics were without Al Horford and Robert Williams III, who hasn’t played a single game this season, the Warriors were without Andrew Wiggins, who has been playing like he’s buying a ticket for a second straight NBA All-Star Game. The Warriors’ 123 points were the most the Celtics have allowed this season in a game that didn’t reach overtime. Boston’s 107 points were nearly 14 fewer than its 120.8 — a league best — per game before coming to San Francisco.

A handful of teams have been impressive this season. None have been as dominant as the Celtics. But for the fourth straight time, the Warriors were the better team. And the players who have gone through the trudges of a long season know how important wins like these can be.

“Absolutely,” Steph Curry said when asked if these kinds of wins are necessary to bolster confidence. “The competitor in you says these games obviously matter in terms of letting other championship-caliber teams know you’re a force to be reckoned with and whatever happens down the stretch, if you match up it’s going to be a tough series.

“You understand if you lose, it’s not the end of the world. But it does matter. These games matter in the sense of preparing yourself mentally for what playoff basketball is like. You want to build as much of a presence in those types of games as possible, and you also have to assess the team as it stands. What do we have out there?

“It kind of foreshadows what a playoff series could look like. It was a good feeling to win a game like that.”

The statement win from the Warriors couldn’t have come at a better time — for multiple reasons, too.

First, let’s rewind and go backwards. Specifically to their last game, a heartbreaking 124-123 road loss to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night. The Warriors blew a four-point lead in the final 13 seconds, resulting in what Kerr called his worst loss as Golden State’s head coach.

Simply put, the Warriors needed this win. Those ugly last seconds could have lingered into their next game. Instead, the Warriors looked the most locked in they have all season long.

“Yes,” Klay Thompson said when asked if the Warriors needed Saturday night’s win. “Especially after Utah. That was a terrible experience. To kind of respond the way that we did felt great. We were able to flush that one in Salt Lake after that collapse, so it’s always nice to respond with a great performance and we did that tonight.”

Now, let’s look ahead.

Starting Tuesday night, the Warriors begin a grueling, six-game East Coast road trip over an eight-day span. Starting with the heaviest of hitters, the Warriors’ journey includes games against the Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. On paper, for a team whose road record reads 2-11, that isn’t exactly a stroll in the park.

The Warriors will take any momentum they can get right now after their up-and-down, consistently inconsistent start to the season. Some might have been earned by beating Boston in such strong fashion.

“It’s a huge challenge,” Kerr said of the Warriors’ upcoming road trip. “The good thing for us is that nobody is running away in the West. We’re 14-13. We’ve probably lost three or four games we easily could have won. But we lost for a reason. We weren’t really ready to win close games. I didn’t think we were solid enough.

“I’m hoping that this is a sign that we’re getting there. It will be a great test to go out on the road for six games against really quality opponents and see if we can have a successful trip. I like where we ‘re heading.

“The guys off the bench are starting to play and really assume their roles, and our defense seems to keep getting better and all off that points in a good direction.”

Tatum was held to 6-for-21 from the field and was a minus-13 in plus/minus against a Warriors defense that didn’t include Wiggins. Jonathan Kuminga continued his stretch of impactful games off the bench and understanding his role played a big factor. He scored 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting with five rebounds and three assists.

Donte DiVincenzo looks like a 16-win player and showcased why the Warriors always have felt he’s a winner. He was a season-best plus-20 in 17 minutes off the bench with only three points, but added eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and ferocious defense to frustrate the Celtics. Jordan Poole again struggled from deep, going 1-for-9, though he was able to score 20 points while going 9-for-10 from the free-throw line and 4-for-7 on 2-pointers.

Then there’s Kevon Looney, who Kerr always can trust. Looney was a plus-19, scoring seven points while also grabbing 15 rebounds with three assists and two blocks.

But this game was about two players more than anybody else: The Splash Brothers. Curry (32) and Thompson (34) combined to score 66 points. They went 26-for-47 (55.3 percent) from the field and 10-for-22 (45.5 percent) on 3-pointers. The Warriors now are 14-0 all time in games where the Splash Bros both score 30 or more points.

Thompson now has scored 20 or more points in four straight games, his first time doing so since returning from his two leg injuries. What stood out most wasn’t Thompson’s under-control shot or him racking up points. It was his two-way ability on the defensive side, guarding Tatum much of the time.

“I cherish being able to move out there on defense and compete more than I ever have before,” Thompson said. “When you face the best, your game usually reflects that and you try to rise to the level of competition and for such a long season, it is always fun to play the best teams and you don’t see them often.

“Especially the teams out East like Milwaukee and Boston.”

On a night where Klay dropped more than 30 points, his favorite highlight was pinning a Tatum layup against the backboard in the first two minutes of the game.

“That was great,” Poole said. “Tremendous effort to get back into the play. Huge, huge block. He got up for sure.”

If the Warriors are going to compete with, or even beat, the best teams in basketball, they will need the aggression and defensive will that Thompson displayed. That’s even more true if Wiggins, who is being re-evaluated Monday, is to miss more time. The Warriors of course will need Kuminga to continue to step his game up, too.

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In the five games Wiggins has missed this season, Kuminga now has averaged 16.8 points while shooting 56.9 percent from the field.

Two of the Warriors’ six games on this road trip will be the second night of a back-to-back. It still is unknown if Thompson will play in those games, against the Pacers and Nets, or how cautious Kerr will be with others. Second-unit players will have to step up. Poole needs to put up points on nights where his 3-point shot is cold, as he did vs. the Celtics. Players like Moses Moody, a plus-2 in 11 minutes off the bench with two points and two rebounds, are going to be called upon.

The last time the Warriors went on the road trip close to being this taxing, they went 0-5 with three of those losses at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic. That also was in late October to early November. Though the Warriors aren’t atop the standings, now a week-plus into December, they have more of an idea of ​​who they are, with less of a need for duct tape to cover their cracks and patch up the rotations.

Going into Sunday, the Warriors are the No. 8 seeds in the Western Conference standings. They also are only four games out of first place. There will be long nights and a lot of flights, but where the Warriors stand when they come home on the 22nd could tell us who they ultimately can be this season.

Call it another regular-season game, go ahead. For timing of the Warriors’ schedule, backwards and forwards, the Warriors having their way with the Celtics came with a little extra oomph. This more, and now we’ll meant see if it results in even more as the season hits a key point.

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